The main suspect in the murder of an 11-year-old girl found strangled to death under her bed in Texas is a Guatemalan immigrant who entered the US in January, police said on Friday – revealing that a key left behind in the little girl’s home was a vital piece of evidence.
Maria Gonzalez’s body found by her father at their home in Pasadena, Texas, on Saturday, August 12, when he returned home from work. She had also been sexually assaulted, police said.
Pasadena Police Department on Friday named Juan Carlos Garcia-Rodriguez, 18, as a ‘person of interest’ and the main suspect in the case.
He ‘was residing at the same apartment complex where the victim was found but has since left’, police said.
He was there for several weeks, and last seen at the complex two days after her killing. Garcia-Rodriguez is now being hunted by cops.
Garcia-Rodriguez is believed to have entered the US in January. He crossed the border in El Paso, Texas.
After he ‘self-surrendered’, it is believed the teenager, who was 17 when he crossed, was then let free.
Detectives have released a photograph of Garcia-Rodriguez with their appeal and also offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest or charges.
Sources in the Department of Homeland Security told NewsNation that it’s believed he may have fled to Mexico.
Garcia-Rodriguez had been released after entering the US because he had a sponsor in Louisiana.
A sponsor typically agrees to provide housing or financial support to a migrant while they are processed and their status is determined.
Maria’s father had called police at around 3pm on August 12 and said he had found his daughter’s lifeless body under her bed.
Her body was stuffed in a trash bag that was placed inside a clothes hamper, which was put under a bed.
Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene. Police say the girl’s father, Carmelo Gonzalez, 32, found her after returning home from work. She had been sexually assaulted and killed.
Detectives initially said they had no suspects in the case and urged anyone with information which could catch Maria’s killer to come forward.
In a press conference on Friday – six days after the discovery – they named Garcia-Rodriguez as a ‘person of interest’.
Pasadena Police Chief Josh Bruegger said that detectives found at key at the crime scene which did not match any locks at the property.
They discovered it was in fact linked to another address in the apartment complex where Garcia-Rodriguez was staying.
Her official cause of death was ruled as asphyxiation due to strangulation and blunt force head and neck trauma.
Additional investigation determined she had also been sexually assaulted.
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