SEATTLE (AP) — A four-day search for a missing Washington girl who vanished from her home over the weekend came to a tragic end Thursday, as authorities said they believe they have found the body of 6-year-old Jenise Wright.
Authorities in Kitsap County said Thursday they’re trying to track down anyone responsible, and they’re “not ruling out anything.”
“This is going to be a criminal investigation, there’s no doubt about that,” said Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson.
A forensic pathologist under contract to the county will perform an autopsy, Wilson said. That may take place Friday, depending on the pathologist’s schedule. The county coroner has custody of the body, and formal identification is expected Friday, the deputy 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.”
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 team using search dogs discovered the body late Thursday morning in a forested area near the mobile home park where the girl lived. Her family has been notified.
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 will map the spot, Wilson said Thursday evening.
Authorities said there have been no arrests in the case.
Her parents are cooperating with authorities, Wilson said Thursday.
“It’s tragic circumstances that bring us here,” said Frank Montoya Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle division. Several FBI specialized teams were involved in the search.
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.”
More than 350 people, including officers from 15 law enforcement agencies, searched for Jenise, going door to door at the mobile home park near Bremerton, 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.
Court records show Jenise Wright’s father, James Wright, was charged more than a decade ago with molesting two girls, ages 8 and 15.
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 are aware of the past charge against the father, but that officers are focused on finding the girl. “That has nothing to do with this investigation right now,” he said.
Authorities searched all 103 homes and every outbuilding and vehicle in the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park.