SOUTH SALT LAKE The search for a 7-year-old girl had a tragic ending Tuesday night.
The body of Hser Nay Moo was found about 7 p.m. in a basement apartment in the same complex where the young girl lived, near 2250 S. 500 East, 30 hours after she was last seen alive.
Four people were taken into custody immediately and a fifth was picked up a short time later in the Fort Union area, said South Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Snyder. The five men were still being questioned at the South Salt Lake Police Department late Tuesday night.
The apartment was the last unit in the complex that had not been cleared by authorities because they had been unable to find anyone home to give them consent to search it, Snyder said. About 7 p.m., four FBI agents found someone home and were given consent to search. "Evidence" led them to the bathroom where Moo's body was found.
The cause of death was not revealed Tuesday night. Snyder would only confirm there were signs of trauma.
Paul Van Dyke, a spokesman for the family, said they were devastated.
"I don't think my words can express the depth of the grief felt by the family. They are devastated. They lost their only daughter."
He said family members gathered inside their apartment after hearing the tragic news. Together with other members of the Myanmar community, the family was holding a prayer service, "singing hymns and taking comfort in each other."
He said the girl's mother was handling things remarkably well, even leading the prayer service. The girl's brothers, Van Dyke said, were angry and seemed to be having a more difficult time.
"Our hearts and sympathies go out to the family," an emotional Snyder said. "This has been a very tough case for all of us."
The chief said the case was the most tragic ending that anyone could have anticipated. "It will be difficult for us to deal with for a long time."
Tragically, the discovery of Hser Nay Moo's (pronounced Tah-bo-mu), body was made at the same time her father, a couple of blocks away, was making a tearful plea to the public for his daughter to be returned safely.
"I have one daughter in this world and I love her most," Cartoon Wah said through interpreter Justin Dolan while wiping away tears. "I don't know who took her. If someone did take her, I ask they return her. That's all I can ask."
Snyder said late Tuesday he had spoken with Wah and his family, but out of respect to them, declined to talk about the meeting.
Mobile command units from several law enforcement agencies that had been set up at a nearby LDS stake center, where the command post for the volunteer search effort was set up, moved late Tuesday night to the apartment complex where homicide investigators planned to collect evidence throughout the night.
Local police, the FBI, the Utah Attorney General's Office and more than 1,000 volunteers did an extensive search of a 1-1/2 mile radius around the apartment complex. Snyder said at least three exhaustive searches of the area were conducted.
An Amber Alert was not issued Monday night because the situation did not meet the criteria. But by 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Snyder said the fact so much time had passed without any trace of Moo turning up, the severity of the situation became elevated.
"This, to me, has turned into a foul play situation. This is completely out of character for a second-grade, 7-year-old girl," he said. "I'm not taking any chances."
Paul Murphy, with the Utah Attorney General's Office, said several "seasoned veterans" in child abduction cases were consulted and agreed the alert should be issued. "All evidence to them is pointing to foul play," he said.
Classmates and school teachers of Moo were contacted Monday night, but none of them had seen her. The young girl did not have a history of running away or behaving badly, Snyder said.
In addition, about 40 registered sex offenders who live in that area were contacted by Adult Probation and Parole.
"We looked at a list of offenders that live in the area and a couple of our agents spent the night performing field interviews," said Utah Department of Corrections spokeswoman Angie Welling.
Police were also asking for consent searches of homes and noted Tuesday that residents had been cooperative. Dave Smart, an uncle of Elizabeth Smart, helped coordinate Tuesday's volunteer efforts. Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, was also at the search command post Tuesday to lend support.
Tuesday night, before the discovery of his daughter's body was made, Wah said he did not want to harm the person who took his daughter.
"I just ask the Lord will help my daughter to continue to be strong, that she won't hunger or thirst," he said. "I ask that the Lord will continue to help us to find my daughter. He can see things we can't see."
Hser Nay Moo was last seen about 1 p.m. Monday. Originally, police reported she had a disagreement with her 11-year-old brother and left her apartment to play or go for a walk.
Van Dyke, an LDS service missionary who has helped the young girl and her family since they moved to Utah in August, said that was not entirely true. He said there was no fight between Moo and her brother. He said she was playing outside on the porch, and would occasionally go back inside. The last time she did that was to get a drink about 1 p.m., he said.
Moo, her 11-year-old brother and newborn brother, were being watched by their aunt. Wah was at work and their mother, who had given birth just three weeks ago, was at a doctor's appointment, Van Dyke said. The family also has two more sons, ages 20 and 18.
When the mom returned home about 2 p.m., she did not see Hser Nay Moo, but didn't think much of it at the time. By
6:30 p.m., however, concerned neighbors called police.
Wah lived in a Thailand refugee camp for 20 years before coming to Utah last August. He was originally from Myanmar, Van Dyke said. The family speaks very limited English. Part of the problem for investigators Tuesday was finding an interpreter who spoke their Burmese dialect. The family is deeply religious, Van Dyke said, and spent Tuesday afternoon praying.
Family friends revealed Tuesday night before Moo was found that the young girl had asthma and did not have her inhaler with her when she was last seen. Cold weather and stressful situations caused her chest to have contractions in the past, Van Dyke said.
During the day, ground patrols, helicopters and K9s were all used in the search effort. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, investigators had few leads as to Moo's whereabouts.
"We have no evidence to give us indication of where she might be," Snyder said.
After Monday night, all but three apartments had been "cleared" by investigators, Snyder said. Detectives were unable to find anyone to let them in and consent to being searched, he said. The remaining three were cleared Tuesday, with Moo's body being found in the third and final apartment.
Pink ribbons were hung on trees and telephone poles in the neighborhood late Tuesday as support from the community grew. Tuesday night, candles replaced ribbons as mourning and grief replaced hope.
The Utah Attorney General Office's CART (Child Abduction Response Team) team has also joined the search effort. It's the first activation of the newly formed team. In addition to CART, the Department of Public Safety, Salt Lake County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children all joined in the search.
Snyder said he also placed a call to Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank Tuesday morning. Burbank sent investigators who worked on the Destiny Norton case to help. Norton, 6, was kidnapped from her yard and killed by a neighbor in 2006. Her body was found in a neighbor's basement storage room.
In addition to CART, the CERT team (Citizens Emergency Response Team) assisted with the search. Murphy said of all the recent high-profile missing girl cases the Salt Lake Valley has had in recent years Elizabeth Smart in 2002, Lori Hacking in 2004, Norton in 2006 this was the most organized and the largest initial law enforcement response investigators have ever had.
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Rex Mulholland said background checks on each searcher were being conducted per the guidelines established by the Department of Justice on conducting searches for missing children.
"It's something that's got to be done," said Ed Smart who has been an activist for finding missing children since his daughter's abduction.
Many times a kidnapping suspect will return to help join the search effort to throw off investigators, Smart said. "You don't want to put others in harm's way."
In conducting background checks, investigators were looking for outstanding warrants, criminal records and whether the person had ever been on the sex offender registry. At least two searchers were turned away because of their criminal backgrounds.
Moo was a student at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, but the school is currently off track.
Snyder said the young girl had a nickname, pronounced Dah-bo-mu. But her English was very limited, Van Dyke said.
Representatives of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office were on the scene of the crime late Tuesday night. Officers said they were preparing a search warrant for the apartment.
As the search efforts were called off late Tuesday, a small group of people gathered outside the apartment complex for a vigil. Search volunteers and neighbors lit candles and held photographs of the girl.
Brandie Egelston, who lives in the complex with her 4-year-old daughter, said children are always playing together outside the apartments."It could have been any of them," she said.
Contributing: Aaron Falk E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]