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An 11-year-old warned about a mysterious stranger before her rape and murder. Now her father needs justice

Authorities in Pasadena have launched a manhunt to find the killer of the 11-year-old girl, who immigrated from Guatemala with her father four years ago. Andrea Blanco reports

Friday 18 August 2023 15:14 BST
(Univison Screenshot/Facebook Amador Saput)

Just thirty minutes after Carmelo González left for work on 12 August, he received an alarming text from his 11-year-old daughter Maria saying that someone was knocking on the door of the apartment the two shared in Pasadena, Texas.

Mr González warned his daughter not to open the door but he never got a reply to that final text. Worried that something might have happened, he asked his brother to go check on Maria, who was nowhere to be found.

When the father-of-two arrived at the home hours later, he discovered a disturbing scene in his daughter’s room. Maria had been strangled to death, her body wrapped inside two trash bags and stuffed in a laundry basket concealed under the bed.

“They took my child, whom I loved the most,” Mr González said in Spanish during an interview with Univision. “I left her alone in the apartment and she was sending voice notes saying that someone was on the door. I told her not to open the door and that I was leaving work.”

A manhunt is now underway for the perpetrator of Maria’s brutal killing, with the Pasadena Police Department saying that they’re looking into suspects who may have known the family’s routine and that Mr González had left the home on the day of the killing.

Here’s everything we know about the case:

Maria’s body was placed in a basket under her bed

Four years ago, Mr González and Maria immigrated to the US from Guatemala, where Mr Gonzalez’s wife and younger daughter still live. They had lived in Austin, Texas, and Florida before moving to Pasadena.

They had been living at the building complex on 1004 Main Street for just three months, and during the summer, Mr Gonzalez would leave for work while his daughter stayed at home.

“She was well-behaved, respectful. She was a calm girl,” the grieving father told Univision while holding a portrait with a picture of his slain daughter.

On the morning of the murder, Mr González left for work around 9.45am, Pasadena Police Chief Josh Bruegger said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Maria González, 11, was sexually assaulted and strangled to death in her home (Amador Saput/Facebook)

Shortly after, Maria told her father that there was an unknown person at the front door. That would be the last message Maria sent before she was killed.

Mr González asked his brother Reginaldo González, who lives in the area with his family, to check on Maria. Maria’s uncle did not find her when he looked for her across the house with his wife but became alarmed after seeing coffee and sugar scattered on the couch.

“I felt something different immediately after opening the door,” Reginaldo González told Telemundo 47. “I thought, ‘What happened here?”

Maria’s father then arrived at the home and joined the search, eventually suggesting that his daughter could be doing laundry because the laundry basket was gone.

“He asked out loud, ‘Why is not my laundry basket here?” Reginaldo González said. “Then we found her. They put the girl inside a trash bag in the basket under the bed.”

“Why would anyone do something like this? She was just a little girl,” Maria’s father also told Telemundo 47.

Maria’s father Carmelo González found her body estuffed inside a laundry basket under the bed (Telemundo 47/Screenshot)

Police say girl was raped and strangled

The medical examiner determined that Maria was sexually assaulted.

Her cause of death was ruled asphyxiation due to strangulation and blunt force head and neck trauma.

“Whoever saw something just after 10 am on Saturday at that particular apartment, we’re asking them to come forward with the information they might have,” Pasadena Police Chief Josh Bruegger said on Tuesday.

Mr Bruegger said the door was locked when family members first arrived searching for Maria. He said the entrance did not appear to have been forced.

“It’s a fairly small complex ... it seems awfully suspicious that dad leaves for work and within 30 minutes, you’ve got someone knocking on the door,” MrBruegger said when asked whether he thought the killer lived in the apartment building.

Authorities are interviewing residents of the apartment complex where Maria lived with her father (Univision)

Police have taken voluntary DNA samples from some residents in the complex, but Mr Bruegger said some were uncooperative. Mr Bruegger reassured the community that immigration status would not be a concern if they decided to come forward with information.

Authorities are also trying to process surveillance cameras installed on the complex, but there is concern that they may not be operational. The chief of police said his department is investigating similarities between Maria’s killing and recent crimes but has not found any links so far in the probe.

“We don’t have a suspect yet and we are doing all we can to solve this crime. As a parent of an almost 10-year-old myself, this is a cause for concern,” Mr Bruegger added. “

Maria’s mother says she’s ‘run out of tears’

Maria’s mother Ana Elizabeth Xitumul Saput told Telemundo 47 that she and her youngest daughter had stayed behind in Guatemala due to her heart issues. She said the tragic news had taken a huge toll on her and now just wants to see her daughter one last time.

“I don’t want to cry anymore ... I want justice. I need her killer to turn himself in and I’m asking God that kind-hearted people help us bring our daughter’s remains back to Guatemala,” the grieving mother said. “This person has no feelings. Don’t you have sisters, a mother?”

Crime Stoppers is offering $5,000 for information that leads to the arrest of Maria’s killer. No suspects have been identified in the case.

Federal investigators are assisting in the investigation, according to local police.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Pasadena Police detectives at 713-475-7803 or 713-475-7878.

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