CANTON, Ga.— A body found in a trash container is believed to be that of a 7-year-old girl who went missing last week from an apartment complex playground north of Atlanta, authorities said Monday.
GBI spokesman John Bankhead said Monday that “everything points to it being” 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera of Canton. Bankhead said officials were awaiting results of an autopsy to confirm the identity and a cause of death.
Bankhead told The Associated Press the body appeared to have been severely beaten and sexually assaulted. He said the girl’s mother had been notified.
No suspects were in custody, Canton Police Lt. Jeff Hall said Monday afternoon.
Hall said authorities had not searched the trash container until Monday because it was a large garbage compacting bin that needed to be moved offsite so they could search it.
Counselors were on hand at the girl’s school, Canton Elementary, for students and staff. School officials were cooperating with investigators, Cherokee County School District spokeswoman Barbara P. Jacoby said in an email.
The child was last seen around 5 p.m. Friday at the River Ridge apartments in Canton, about 40 miles north of Atlanta, Canton police Detective Candy Worthy said. Authorities had said they believed the girl was abducted and brought in a specialized team of law officers trained to handle child abductions.
Maria Rodriguez works with Rivera’s mother at a nearby poultry plant and used to live in the same apartment complex as the family.
“She was a very sweet girl,” Rodriguez said, crying as she held her 4-year-old daughter. “She was the type of little girl who likes her presence to be known. It’s just so sad.”
Maria Faustino, who also used to live in the apartment complex, said she always felt safe there.
“This place is small and everybody knows everybody,” said Faustino, who has a young son. “You wouldn’t have thought something like this would have happened there.”
A schoolmate who lived in a neighboring complex, 8-year-old Ashley Rosalez, said Rivera was a grade below her at Canton Elementary. She described Rivera as very talkative and said Rivera would play on all the playgrounds in nearby apartment complexes.
Searchers had been combing the nearby apartment buildings and surrounding woods as they looked for Rivera over the weekend.
Officers were also checking with sex offenders in the area, an effort that will be ongoing and possibly broadened as the investigation continues, Bankhead said earlier in the day.
There are 73 registered sex offenders living in Canton, according to state records online.
Authorities did not issue a Levi’s Call — the state’s version of an amber alert — because officers didn’t have any information about the girl’s abductor, which is a requirement for issuing such an alert.
Michelle Mercier, who lives across the street from the apartment complex, brought a bouquet of yellow, pink and purple flowers to the playground where the little girl was last seen.
“I wanted everybody to know I’m thinking of her, this precious little girl who is no longer with us,” Mercier said.