Florida police cite progress in tracing murdered girl's path

ORANGE PARK, Fla. - Authorities are getting closer to learning where Somer Renee Thompson's body was initially dumped as they continued Friday sifting through tons of trash found with her in a southeast Georgia landfill.

Clay County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Mary Justino said a large trash truck that took the garbage from the Rosemary Hill landfill in Green Cove Springs to the Chesser Island Road Landfill in Folkston, Ga., has been identified. By locating items with addresses or other information in the trash from that truck, investigators are hoping to find the smaller truck that drove the trash from Orange Park to Green Cove Springs. They could then likely trace the smaller truck's route, Justino said.

"We are making progress into narrowing down not only the contents of that garbage but where it came from," Justino said. "Can we say definitively yet that we have detailed evidence from the garbage that leads back directly to the neighborhood? Not yet."

The body of the 7-year-old Orange Park girl was found Wednesday, two days after she disappeared while walking home on Gano Avenue from Grove Park Elementary School.

A team of FBI forensic investigators from Jacksonville is working with Clay detectives and Georgia authorities to search the landfill. Members from the same FBI team got involved Friday in sifting through trash found in a Dumpster outside a home near where Somer was last seen. It's unclear what connection there may be between the two searches.

Investigators know how Somer died based on an autopsy done Thursday in Savannah, but they are not releasing those details to protect the investigation, Justino said. Somer was initially identified through a birthmark and clothing she was wearing when her body was found.

Funeral arrangements completed Friday will give the public a chance to pay their respects while also ensuring the family's privacy.

A public viewing will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at the First Baptist Church of Orange Park. A public memorial service will be 11 a.m. Tuesday in the same church. A private graveside service and burial will follow, but it will be preceded by a procession from the church to the Jacksonville Memory Gardens.

Diena Thompson, Somer's mother, emerged from her home Friday night to tearfully tell dozens of supporters that she wouldn't be able to view the body.

"They are going to give me a lock of her hair, but I'm not going to be able to see her," said Thompson, 34. "I wanted to tell somebody that, so maybe it'll make somebody want to say something if they've seen anything. Anything. Somebody please tell."

Thompson's boyfriend said Friday night that she was too exhausted to give interviews. A message left for her by the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville was not returned.

More than 50 Clay detectives and state and federal agents continue to chase leads in the case. About 200 of 900 tips called in by Friday afternoon were still being pursued, Justino said. Interviews with 90 area sexual predators and offenders were completed Friday with no suspects identified.

"Even though this is five days later, we are not letting up," Justino said. "Our agency is working feverishly today just as we will every day until we locate the person or persons responsible."

Hoping to generate more interest, Sheriff Rick Beseler plans to film a segment about the case today for the TV show "America's Most Wanted." It's unclear when that segment would air because the network is pre-empting tonight's show for the baseball playoff game. Host John Walsh is trying to persuade network officials to air the segment during a commercial break in the game, but they have yet to agree, Justino said.

Investigators returned Friday to property in the block where Somer was last seen by her brother, sister and, moments later, a friend. Evidence taken from the vacant house, large trash bin and the grounds is being given top priority at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement laboratory in Jacksonville, Justino said.

Scores of people continued to visit and contribute to a growing memorial of stuffed toys, signs and balloons across from the family's home on Horton Drive. A number of signs that once asked for Somer's safe return were covered by other signs asking for prayers for her and her family.

The outpouring of community support also could be seen along the main strips in Orange Park, with prayers offered for Somer and her family popping up on marquees outside businesses.

Somer's smiling face remained visible to acquaintances, newly found admirers and strangers. A large poster advertising the Amber Alert for her still hangs at the busy intersection of Park and Kingsley avenues. Many smaller fliers still hang from trees and poles throughout Orange Park.

Somer's father, Samuel Thompson, and his sister, Laura Holt, plan to travel this weekend from their home in North Carolina for the funeral, Holt told the Times-Union.

Thompson said he was recently hurt in an accident and didn't have the money or transportation to come from his home in Graham, N.C. Holt said a local business donated a handicap-accessible van to them Friday and they should be arriving today or Sunday. Thompson and Somer's mother have been estranged and are getting divorced.

Morris News Service writer Adam Aasen contributed to this report.

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