Mourners anxiously await capture of girl’s killer

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Dozens of parents, their young children in tow, have filed past the mountainous makeshift memorial that has sprouted up in memory of a 7-year-old girl found slain in a landfill some 50 miles from her suburban neighborhood.

Some are angry, others sad — though many are in fear as they wait for detectives to solve the case as they scour the area for any clues as to what happened to Somer Thompson as she walked home from school Monday.

“We have to protect our children,” sobbed 37-year-old Patricia Navarro, who brought her two children, ages 9 and 16 months, to Somer’s neighborhood on Saturday morning. “We have to catch this person and put him away.”

Navarro gazed at a makeshift memorial across from the Thompson family home. It’s turned into a mountain of sorts, decorated with Hannah Montana balloons, stuffed animals and candles that have burned so long that the wax has melted into the grass.

Missing child posters featuring the slain girl’s face, framed by her thick brown bangs, still plaster nearly every utility pole along the mile-long route from her elementary school to her suburban Jacksonville home. The posters — and a large Crimestoppers sign offering rewards for tips that could solve the case — are a jarring sight amid the Little League games and Halloween decorations throughout Orange Park.

Somer was last seen alive walking along the sidewalk in front of a vacant house, and authorities said they’re searching for anyone who saw what happened to the 7-year-old after that. Investigators sifted through evidence from that vacant house and the Georgia landfill where her body was found Wednesday.

So far, no witnesses have come forward to say they saw Somer attacked or abducted, Clay County Sheriff‘s spokeswoman Mary Justino said.

“What we’ve been trying to figure out is who frequents that area, because obviously it’s more than just the people who live there,” she said.

The child’s teary but resolute mother appeared on television interviews and warned her daughter’s killer: “We’ll get you.” She pleaded for anyone with information to “please, please tell” police.

The day after the child’s body was identified, authorities said they had ruled out all 161 registered sex offenders who lived within a 5-mile radius of Somer’s home.

Neighbors said they were used to watching out for each other’s children as they walked to and from school.

“Everybody knows everybody here. If there was a stranger on the street, we’d be looking at watching where they were going, seeing what they were doing here,” said Monica Loeb, a family friend of the Thompsons.

An autopsy has been completed and investigators know how Somer died, but authorities won’t disclose their findings or any details about the body.

At a vigil held outside the Thompsons’ home Friday night, Somer’s mother said she would not be able to see her daughter’s body.

“They are going to give me a lock of her hair,” Diena Thompson said.

Mourning neighbors and others have gathered every night outside the home. On Friday, the mother joined them to sing Somer’s favorite song, “You Are My Sunshine.”

Diena Thompson has declined requests from The Associated Press for interviews. She spent part of the day Friday making funeral arrangements, and a law enforcement officer was seen carrying a child’s white dress from the family’s home. A viewing will be held Monday night and a funeral will follow on Tuesday.