The remains of a Florida girl who went missing in 2016 were found last week, authorities said, and her accused killer could face the death penalty.
Diana Alvarez was 9 years old when she vanished in the middle of the night from her home in San Carlos Park, about 18 miles south of Fort Myers on the state's Gulf Coast. The search for her ended Thursday when her body was found in Yeehaw Junction, about 140 miles away, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
Following her disappearance in May 2016, the sheriff's office and assisting agencies twice searched areas of Yeehaw Junction in Osceola County after the phone of Jorge Guerrero, a friend of the family, pinged there around the time of Alvarez's disappearance.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said during a news conference over the weekend that the department and partners spent "hundreds of hours" looking for her and "never stopped" searching for her body.
They were immediately alerted when workers came upon the body in Yeehaw Junction, and the remains were positively identified as Alvarez through dental records, Marceno said. A cause of death has not yet been determined.
"The monster that committed this horrendous crime is behind bars and will now be brought to justice for the murder of Diana Alvarez," Marceno said. "This does not bring Diana back, but I hope this helps bring closure to the family."
Guerrero, then 28, had made "admissions" that put him with Alvarez on the morning she went missing, according to NBC Miami. He also told investigators that he had a sexual relationship with the girl, NBC affiliate WBBH reported.
About a year after Alvarez'a disappearance, a jury found Guerrero guilty of federal charges of creation and possession of child pornography, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison. A year after that, a grand jury indicted him on first-degree murder, even in the absence of a body.
Guerrero was awaiting trial when Alvarez's body was found.
State Attorney Amira Fox said Saturday that her office would now seek the death penalty for Guerrero.
Alvarez's mother told WBBH that she was mourning all over again after her daughter's body was found.
"She meant everything to me," said Rita Hernandez.
"I have no words to describe the pain that I felt for four years," she added. "I don’t wish this upon anybody."