SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — A 15-year-old boy lured an 8-year-old girl into his apartment and killed her before hiding her body in a recycling bin at the housing complex for artists where they lived, authorities said Tuesday.
Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel told reporters that Madyson Middleton went willingly into the apartment and was probably dead even before she was reported missing Sunday evening.
The boy, who police say knew the girl as a neighborhood acquaintance, was arrested on suspicion of murder, Vogel said.
The police chief would not discuss a motive and declined to give details on the suspect’s background or the manner in which the girl was slain.
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Madyson’s disappearance and death has shaken the unique artists’ community called Tannery Arts Center on the outskirts of this beach town. The center is a public-private nonprofit project that includes 100 affordable loft apartments for artists and their families, a cafe and dance and art studios.
Santa Cruz, with a population of 62,000, is perhaps best known for its boardwalk and liberal politics. The community also has a large number of working artists.
Artist Kirby Scudder said people at the center are reeling. About 250 people live there, including 50 children who have grown up under the watchful eyes of all the parents. The suspect and his alleged victim knew each other, he said.
“We lost not one kid, but two kids over the weekend, and both parents are in an absolute state of shock,” said Scudder, who described the suspect as admired, well-liked and well-rounded.
Federal and local law enforcement searched the area surrounding the complex Sunday night and throughout Monday before finding the girl’s body that night.
The suspect, whose name is not being released because he is a juvenile, was nearby when the body was discovered, and officers found evidence in the apartment that links him to the slaying, the police chief said.
Prosecutors are considering bringing charges against the boy as an adult, Santa Cruz District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell said.
On Tuesday morning, the trash-collection area where Madyson’s body was found remained roped off. Visitors stopped at a walkway memorial to pay respects with candles, bouquets of flowers and stuffed animals.
“My staff was so hopeful we were going to find her alive. And when the news came last night that she was not alive,” Vogel said, “it was horrible.”
Hundreds of volunteers had searched surrounding areas to look for Madyson, who was last seen Sunday afternoon. She had been seen riding her new Razor scooter in the courtyard, but around 5 p.m., her mother realized she was gone.
Police twice conducted a door-to-door search of the entire apartment complex, as well as a homeless shelter across the street. Vogel said he did not know if the boy’s apartment was immediately searched, but they believe the girl was killed before they got a call.
Officers discovered the body on a second, more thorough search of the complex, Vogel said.
Beyond the 8-acre property, searchers from throughout the state used boats, helicopters, bikes and cameras in their efforts.
Authorities used dogs to search nearby woods and parks and the San Lorenzo River levee. Helicopters scanned the forest and the coastline, and the Coast Guard surveyed the ocean 2 miles from where she was last seen.
Associated Press writer Kristin J. Bender in San Francisco and AP photographer Ben Margot in Santa Cruz contributed to this report.