Criminal probe now the focus in young girl's case
By Phuong Le
SEATTLE (AP) -- Now that authorities believe they have found the body of a 6-year-old Washington girl who vanished from her home last weekend, they are focusing on a criminal investigation of the death.
A planned autopsy by a forensic pathologist and painstaking examination and mapping of the wooded spot where the body was found are among the tools they will use.
The body believed to be that of Jenise Wright was found Thursday in woods near the Bremerton-area mobile home park where she lived. The FBI's Specialty Search Dogs Unit discovered the body after volunteer canine search teams reported their dogs showed interest in a particular area, Kitsap County sheriff's Deputy Scott Wilson said.
The girl's family was notified.
Formal identification of the body was expected Friday, Wilson said.
In a statement, the sheriff's department said a coroner will make official confirmation of the identity, but "it appears that the body is that of Jenise."
"This is going to be a criminal investigation, there's no doubt about that," Wilson told a news briefing Thursday. Authorities are trying to track down anyone responsible, and they're "not ruling out anything," he said.
Determination of the manner and cause of death is pending, Wilson said, but "we suspect that she just did not go off by herself and fall into some bushes and die."
There have been no arrests in the case, authorities said.
A forensic pathologist under contract to the county will perform the autopsy, Wilson said.
Jenise was last seen when she went to bed Saturday night. Her parents waited a day before calling for help because they say the girl had wandered around the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park on her own in the past. She was outgoing and unafraid to talk to anyone, family said.
Wilson said in an interview Thursday that there were no signs of forced entry at the girl's home and no indication that she was taken from her room.
An FBI evidence research team has finished checking the area where the body was found, and a forensic mapping team from the Washington State Patrol's criminal investigation division planned to map the spot, Wilson said Thursday evening.
The girl's parents are cooperating with authorities, he said.
More than 350 people, including officers from 15 law enforcement agencies, searched for Jenise, going door to door at Steele Creek Mobile Home Park on the west side of Puget Sound, across from Seattle.
They also pulled surveillance video from nearby businesses and checked in with sex offenders in the county.
After the search began, state child welfare workers removed two other children, an 8-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl, from the home.
Jenise Wright's father, James Wright, was charged more than a decade ago with molesting two girls, ages 8 and 15, court records show.
He eventually pleaded guilty in Whatcom County Superior Court in December 2001 to a misdemeanor assault charge related to the older girl. It was not immediately clear why the molestation charges were dropped. Prosecutors there did not return calls.
A judge in Whatcom County Superior Court sentenced Wright to a year in jail but suspended the entire jail term on the condition that he follow certain conditions, including paying fees.
Wilson said at a news briefing Wednesday that authorities were aware of the past charge against the father, but that officers were focused on finding the girl.