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'Miracle' rescue of girl, 8, from landfill

An 8-year-old Florida girl who had been sexually assaulted and buried under rocks in a trash bin was found alive Sunday. A teenager was charged with attempted murder.
Milagro Cunningham, 17, of Lake Worth, Fla., was charged with the attempted murder of an 8-year-old Florida girl.Thomas Cordy / Palm Beach Post
/ Source: The Associated Press

An 8-year-old girl who was raped and buried alive told a friend she remembered her attacker towering over her before she passed out, then awoke seven hours later beneath a pile of rocks and concrete blocks when she heard the voices of rescuers.

The girl, who had been staying overnight at her godmother’s house, was reported missing early Sunday. She was hospitalized in good condition Monday and a teenage boy who also had been staying at the home was arrested. Authorities said he confessed.

“She said the last thing she remembers is that he looked over her with these big eyes and then she said she went to sleep. She said she was waiting for us to find her,” said 18-year-old Danielle Holloman, a family friend who calls the girl her sister.

“She said she knew we would come get her. That’s why as soon as the police came, she wiggled her fingers,” Holloman said Monday.

The girl was found Sunday morning when police Sgt. Mike Hall climbed into a 25-foot long trash bin, opened the lid to a 30-gallon recycling container and saw part of the girl’s hand and foot peeking out from under heavy concrete slabs, said police Sgt. Dan Boland.

Hall told ABC’s “Good Morning America” he summoned a fellow officer “and he shouted out, you know, ‘her finger is moving!’ And at that point, the expression on everybody’s face just changed. I mean, it went from a hopeless scene to there’s hope there now.”

Boland said there was no doubt that the girl would have been dead if Hall hadn’t found her.

“She was dehydrated and in rough shape with pieces of cement blocks on top of her and she was face down,” Boland said. “There was no way for her to get out on her own.”

'No way for her to get out'

He said rescuers feared the worst, but their mood turned jubilant when they realized she was alive.

She had been sexually assaulted, authorities said.

Her disappearance rattled a state that had been outraged over the arrests of sex offenders in the separate killings earlier this year of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford and 13-year-old Sarah Lunde.

“When a child is abducted and abandoned like this, the critical thing is time,” Police Chief William Smith said. “That we found this child alive is a miracle.”

The 8-year-old had been staying overnight at her godmother’s house. After police found her, the girl named her attacker and described him. The teenage boy she named, a friend who was staying in the home, was arrested.

Boy, 17, charged
Authorities said Milagro Cunningham, 17, confessed and was charged with attempted murder, sexual battery on a child under 12, and false imprisonment of a victim under age 13, police said. A court appearance was scheduled Monday.

The teen initially told investigators that the girl may have been abducted by five men in a station wagon, and that he tried to follow them. He changed his story during questioning, Boland said.

“He was a good person. He would clean and do chores, laugh and play jokes and stuff. We never thought he would do something like that,” Holloman said. “The only reason I can think he went crazy like this is his father died and his mother didn’t want him. Nobody wanted him.”

Holloman said the teen stayed with an aunt until she kicked him out about four months ago. He then went to live at the home of Lisa Taylor, Holloman’s mother, where the victim occasionally spent weekends while her mother worked.

Cunningham’s aunt had accused him of stealing and the teen has a relatively minor criminal record, authorities said. He was on probation for throwing a rock through a car window.

Taylor was asleep when the girl vanished from the bedroom she was sharing with Holloman’s 1-year-old son. Holloman and her sister discovered the girl was missing when they came home after a night of roller-skating, authorities said.

A half hour later, Cunningham knocked on the door and the sisters found him with his shirt torn and his clothes covered with dirt. Investigators said that’s when he started telling his story about the men in the station wagon.

Authorities said the girl was found far enough from any homes that no one would likely have heard if she had cried out. The trash bin was in a fenced-off former landfill behind a park where she often played with Holloman, Holloman’s son and other friends.