IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Cops hunt 'predator' who killed six-year-old girl, dumped her body in Utah canal

WEST JORDAN, Utah -- A 6-year-old girl found dead in a canal near her home was sexually assaulted, police said Wednesday as detectives hunted a suspect.

Authorities in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan said the girl was reported missing by her mother early Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, police ruled Sierra Newbold's death a homicide and said an autopsy determined she had been sexually assaulted.

"At this time no suspects have been identified and we do not have any persons of interest," Police Chief Doug Diamond said.

"There is obviously a predator out there that is a monster, that has murdered a child," Diamond told NBC station KSL. "Is this predator targeting other children? I have no idea at this point. Our highest priority now is to identify, arrest, and successfully prosecute the person or persons responsible for this crime."

'No need to panic'
The chief said he has increased police patrols in the area and is asking parents to take precautions to protect their children.

"If during the course of this investigation an imminent threat becomes known, we will share that information with our residents immediately," he said. "I believe there's no need to panic at this time."

Diamond said the girl's parents have been cooperating in the investigation.

Speaking to KSL, Diamond declined to provide details about the victim's condition, but added: "There was not a significant amount of trauma on the body."

Reed Newbold, the girl's grandfather, said her mother found her missing from her bedroom early Tuesday.

"We don't have any idea" how the girl disappeared or whether she was taken from the bedroom, Reed Newbold told The Associated Press. "It's a complete mystery."

The parents "are devastated by this," he said. No working telephone number could be found for the parents, and authorities had cordoned off the neighborhood with police tape and patrol cars, where pink and purple ribbons hung on trees and mailboxes.

More news from KSL.com

Officers found Sierra's body in the canal about a block from her home, just 30 minutes after her mother "discovered she was not there and called us," police Sgt. Drew Sanders said.

Sanders declined to comment on any possible motive in the case. Investigators also are withholding a precise chain of events leading to the girl's disappearance.

"We haven't come to any conclusion," Sanders said. He said police have "tons of leads" and "it's paramount we find out who did this."

Police have said there were no signs of a break-in at the family's home, and they declined to release any more details about the case.

KSL's report added:

The case appears to have similarities to an unsolved Salt Lake City homicide that occurred in August 1995. Two days after going missing, the body of 6-year-old Rosie Tapia was found in a canal near her family’s Glendale-area apartment. Police ruled her death to be a murder, but leads eventually ran cold. Rosie would have turned 23 this August.

 

More content from msnbc.com and NBC News:

Follow US News on msnbc.com on Twitter and Facebook