Texas police Friday afternoon named a person of interest in the assault and murder of 11-year-old Maria Gonzalez, whose father found her dead in a laundry basket at home when he returned from work Aug. 12.
Pasadena authorities said in a press release Juan Carlos Garcia Rodriguez, 18, “is a person of interest and was residing in the same apartment complex where the victim was found but has since left.”
A medical examiner determined Maria Gonzalez died of asphyxiation by strangulation and had also been sexually assaulted by the assailant, according to the Pasadena Police Department.
Police responded to the Main Village apartment complex on Main Street around 3 p.m. that Saturday after her father, Carmelo Gonzalez, called 911, saying his daughter was not breathing. Medics pronounced the girl dead at the home.
Her body was stuffed into a plastic bag, followed by a laundry bag and placed into a laundry basket, which was hidden beneath a bed in the apartment.
While investigating the crime scene, detectives found a single key that could not be used to open any of the doors in the apartment where Maria was found. The key did, however, open another door in the apartment complex. Investigators then interviewed Garcia Rodriguez.
The person of interest was last seen in the apartment complex Monday around 4 p.m. and has not been seen since. Pasadena Police Chief Josh Bruegger said Friday that Garcia Rodriguez is Guatemalan and was unable to confirm reports he may have fled the country.
Police released a still image of Garcia Rodriguez taken when police contacted the person of interest, Pasadena Police Chief Josh Bruegger said Friday.
Early on Aug. 12, Carmelo Gonzalez went to work and had been texting with Maria, who was home alone at the time, according to police and local news.
Gonzalez told FOX 26 Houston Maria texted him that morning saying she heard someone knocking at the door.
“I told her, ‘Don’t open the door because I am arriving at work,’ and she responded, ‘I am in my bed,’” he told the outlet.
Pasadena Police said that was the last communication Gonzalez received from his daughter.
“Unfortunately, they left her under the bed in a plastic bag. They left my poor daughter,” he told FOX 26.
Authorities told the outlet many undocumented immigrants live in the city just east of Houston, so some residents are reluctant to speak with police, whose main priority is finding the suspect in Maria’s murder.
Police have yet to name a suspect in the girl’s death.
Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information that may lead to an arrest in the case. Tipsters can call 713-222-TIPS (8477), or submit anonymous tips online at crime-stoppers.org. Anyone with information can also contact Det. M. Quintanilla at 713-475-7803 or Det. S. Mata at 713-475-7878.