The body of 17-year-old Norma Lopez was positively identified by the Riverside County (Calif.) Coroner’s Office Wednesday evening, according to the Los Angeles Times. Found in a field two miles from where Lopez was believed to have been kidnapped, the body was discovered Tuesday, but could not be immediately identified. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is now asking the public for help in catching Norma Lopez’s killer.
A man riding his tractor-mower in a field about two miles from where Norma vanished found the body Tuesday face-down and shirtless, wearing only jeans. Having been exposed to the elements for a few days, decomposition was so advanced that even the gender of the body was unknown. The autopsy was able to determine, through use of dental records, that the remains belonged to Norma Lopez, who had disappeared Thursday while walking home from school.
The 17-year-old student had just finished her biology class at nearby Valley View High School, where she was taking a summer school class, when she decided to take a short-cut on her walk home. When she didn’t make it home after the class, which ended at 10:00 a.m., her younger sister, Sonja, went looking for her. She called 911 at 12:25 p.m. to report her sister missing after searching for her for two hours.
In a field near her residence, investigators found personal items that belonged to Norma and signs of a struggle. Police noted that the items were things that someone would not just leave lying around. Additionally, after ascertaining Lopez’s personal history, authorities quickly concluded that she had been the victim of a kidnapping.
KTLA.com reported that cause of death had not been disclosed.
Witnesses told investigators that they had seen a newer model green SUV in the area speeding away about the time that Norma Lopez would have crossed through the field. Riverside County authorities became intent on locating the driver and occupants of the SUV for questioning, but are uncertain if those in the SUV actually have information regarding the disappearance. The SUV is not considered a suspect vehicle. Investigators noted that they have no suspects in the case thus far, and did not know if the kidnapper had been an acquaintance or a stranger.
Before the body was positively identified, search efforts had continued. Investigators questioned neighbors, friends, family, associates, and known criminals in the area, hoping for a lead. Norma Lopez’s boyfriend was interviewed several times and was cooperative, authorities said.
“We do have a few leads that we’re still following up … but I wouldn’t say that we’re any closer,” Riverside County Sheriff’s Sgt. Joseph Borja said.
Police also announced a $35,000 reward for anyone with information that helped them recover Norma Lopez or had information about the kidnapping. Anyone with information regarding the kidnapping and/or death of Norma is asked to call the Moreno Valley Police Hotline at 1-877-242-4345.
A vigil for the student was held Wednesday evening. Nearly 2,000 mourners attended.
Story corrects earlier articles that described Sonja Lopez as Norma Lopez’s older sister, which she is not.