updated 10/6/2005 7:42:17 PM ET 2005-10-06T23:42:17

Police said they believe a body recovered at a Pennsylvania landfill Thursday is that of the mother of a 4-year-old girl who was found abandoned and barefoot on a city street after dark.

A woman’s corpse — unclothed and wrapped in black plastic bags — was found under 18 feet of trash Thursday afternoon in a landfill in Vintondale, Pa., said police spokesman Paul Browne.

The body was not positively identified, but investigators believe it is that of Monica Lozada-Rivadineira, Browne said.

Police, who suspect the woman’s companion of killing her and dumping her body in a trash pile, had been searching the landfill and another in Pennsylvania where New York City’s garbage is hauled.

Police had been searching for the Bolivian-born woman since Sept. 25, when her daughter, Valery Belen Saavedra Lozada, was found wandering in the middle of the night in Queens.

Mother was ‘like a princess’
The pigtailed girl with a cute smile captured the public’s affection after child welfare officials took the unusual step of putting her on television to try to identify her and her mother. She described her mother as looking “like a princess.”

Lozada-Rivadineira’s companion, Cesar Ascarrunz, is being held without bail on charges of strangling her, dumping her body and abandoning her daughter on the street.

Police say Ascarrunz confessed to strangling the woman during an argument, but he denied that in a jailhouse interview published Thursday in New York newspapers.

The girl is currently in foster care. Her paternal grandmother, Ana Maria Rivera, arrived in New York from Arizona on Thursday morning. Lozada-Rivadineira’s mother, Roxana Rivadineira, had obtained her travel documents in Bolivia and was in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, arranging her travel to New York, consulate officials said.

A mother’s anguish
On hearing of the body found at the landfill, Rivadineira said, “I am in so much pain.”

“I am the mother. She was born from my womb. She was my life, my soul. She was a very good woman,” said Rivadineira, 40.

Rivera sobbed when asked about the discovery of the woman’s body. Her son, Juan Carlos Saavedra, was divorced from Lozada-Rivadineira and has been serving time for drug trafficking since January, according to a spokesman for the Bolivian Interior Department.

Valery “is my daughter, and my family is already taking the necessary steps to gain legal custody,” Saavedra told the Bolivian newspaper Los Tiempos. He said he will work to be a better father for Valery and the former couple’s 3-year-old son, whom his family is already caring for.

Rivera disputed that she was here to wage any custody battle over Valery. She was hoping to visit the girl Thursday and also planned to meet as soon as possible with Rivadineira, whom she said she spoke with frequently on the telephone.

A family court judge will decide where to place the girl.

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