The young girl who captured the hearts of a community after she disappeared from her South Salt Lake apartment last week was possibly strangled and was sexually assaulted, according to court documents.
But Hser Ner Moo's apparent struggle to fight off her attacker may have also helped investigators solve the case.
When officials found Moo's body, her hand was still clutching some hairs of the man who attacked her, according to court documents.
Esar Met, 21, was charged Tuesday afternoon in 3rd District Court with aggravated murder and child kidnapping, both first-degree felonies, in the death of 7-year-old Moo.
Aggravated murder carries a possible death sentence if convicted, but Salt Lake District Attorney Lohra Miller said Tuesday her office had not decided whether it would seek that penalty. Child kidnapping carries a possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Met's bail was set Tuesday at $2.5 million.
An autopsy showed Moo "died as a result of blunt force injuries to her head, neck and torso," according to court documents. The state medical examiner concluded her injuries were consistent with strangulation or suffocation.
The aggravating factor in the homicide was that Moo was sexually assaulted, according to court documents.
In a sometimes heart-wrenching account, court documents stated that when Moo's body was found, her skirt was lifted, her underwear was next to her head and there was evidence of trauma to her genitals.
Moo's disappearance and homicide has affected nearly everyone who has heard of the case, including law enforcement and prosecutors.
"These types of cases touch the lives of every person who investigates them and prosecutes them," Miller said.
Police spoke with Moo's family Tuesday prior to the charges being filed, said an interpreter at the meeting.
"It was what they expected," Justin Dolan said of the details in the charging documents. "There weren't any surprises. They (the family) told me after that they leave all of the responsibility with the legal system and the police to carry out justice. They're comfortable with whatever that would be."
The charges against Met could mean the death penalty if he is found guilty, a scenario for which the family is also prepared.
"They don't want him to get free in public again," Dolan said. "If that means a life sentence without parole or the death penalty, they're comfortable with either one."
Moo came to America with her family in August from a refugee camp in Thailand to start a new life. Moo and her family, as well as Met and his family, lived in the South Parc apartment complex, 2250 S. 500 East.
Moo went missing March 31 after she went outside to play. Police were contacted early that evening. By the next day, more than 1,100 volunteers from the public and 75 law enforcers from numerous local, state and federal agencies participated in the search for the young girl.
Her body was found April 1 in the basement bathroom of Met's apartment, about 50 yards away from where Moo lived.
Met lived with four other men who told investigators they never went into the basement, according to court documents. When FBI agents assisting in the search knocked on their door April 1, the men gave investigators consent to search.
In the main room of the basement, officials saw two blood spots about the size of cell phones, court documents state. That was followed by a trail of blood droplets and spatters as well as other drips of blood on one wall. The blood trail led to the bathroom where more blood was discovered, and Moo's body was in the shower, according to court documents.
Investigators received information Met could be in the Cottonwood Heights area staying at his aunt's house. Met stayed the night there on March 31, according to court documents. When police arrived to question him, he tried to run away and had to be restrained, court documents stated.
There are several pieces of evidence that link Met to the crime, including a bloody footprint in the main room of the basement, and two brown hairs, one found in Moo's clutched hand and the other on her abdomen, according to court records.
The district attorney's office has 60 days after Met is arraigned to determine whether they will seek the death penalty. Miller said there is a long list of factors to consider when making such a decision but noted that the heinous nature of the crime would be one of them.
Met's four roommates were questioned by police but not arrested. Miller said no one else was being charged in the case.
On Monday, Moo was laid to rest during a funeral service that attracted hundreds of people from all walks of life.
Met and his family are refugees like Moo and her family. But a family friend of Cartoon Wah, Moo's father, said the families did not know each other well. There was a report by one neighbor that Moo had been in the apartment where Met lived several months ago, but that was before Met lived there.
Miller declined to comment Tuesday on whether or not Moo may have been lured into the apartment or if she was grabbed off the street.
Met's mother, Ra He Mar, told the Deseret Morning News through an interpreter last week that she did not believe her son committed the crime. Met's family, who have been in Utah less than three weeks, are moving from the South Parc apartments to another undisclosed location in the Salt Lake area.The single biggest challenge in the case so far has been the language barrier, Miller said. Both the defendant and the victim's family are from Myanmar, formerly Burma, and speak a dialect not widely used. The governor's office has made a Myanmarese-speaking state employee available to the district attorney to help with interviews and preparing the case, Miller said.
Contributing: Aaron Falk
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