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Grief as missing California girl is found dead

A memorial for Jadianna Larsen rises in front of the housing complex run by Mercy Housing California in Sacramento, Calif., where the 6-year-old had been living. . Her body was found on Thursday in Glenn County, Calif.
A memorial for Jadianna Larsen rises in front of the housing complex run by Mercy Housing California in Sacramento, Calif., where the 6-year-old had been living. . Her body was found on Thursday in Glenn County, Calif. bnguyen@sacbee.com

In a rapid, tragic conclusion to a missing-child mystery, Sacramento, Calif., County Sheriff’s deputies confirmed Saturday that they had found the body of 6-year-old Jadianna Larsen of Sacramento in rural Glenn County, Calif. She had been reported missing Thursday.

Detectives booked Juan Rivera, 25, of Sacramento – boyfriend of the girl’s mother – into the Sacramento County Main Jail early Saturday on charges of murder. He is being held without bail.

Rivera is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday. He declined a jailhouse interview on Saturday.

The violent death of a young child saddened and angered her neighbors at the Martin Luther King Jr. Village apartments, a relatively secure complex in south Sacramento.

A neon-colored sign on the fence of the complex reflected bitterness over the tragedy, and seemingly cast blame for the girl’s untimely death: “Jadianna – Sorry you could not be helped by a system that should protected you.”

Barbara Cockerham, 59, a grandmother of three who lives in south Sacramento, posted the sign. She said she did not know Jadianna, but believed someone or some agency should have been able to intervene.

“This child could have possibly been saved,” she said.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Lisa Bowman said Jadianna’s mother was away undergoing medical treatment at the time of the disappearance. She did not specify the type of treatment, citing patient privacy laws, but said the mother had been gone for a number of days, and had left Jadianna in Rivera’s care. The Sheriff’s Department has not identified the mother. Bowman said Rivera is a registered drug offender.

Investigators are still working to determine whether the child was killed in Sacramento County, Glenn County or somewhere else. The location of the crime would determine which agency would have overall jurisdiction. For now, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department is taking the lead. Bowman said detectives had recovered surveillance video from the gated community where Jadianna and her mother lived.

Rivera has told investigators that he last saw Jadianna at 11 a.m. Thursday in their apartment, according to the Sheriff’s Department. He told authorities he suffers from a seizure disorder and was stricken with a bout of seizures that lasted more than nine hours. Bowman said he told investigators that the seizures eased when his mother arrived to check on him Thursday night, and that they searched for Jadianna for 30 minutes before calling 911.

Martin Luther King Jr. Village includes 80 units of permanent supportive housing for disabled, formerly homeless adults, plus a few children, said Richard Sprague, a Mercy spokesman.

Cheetah Casborn, who identified herself as a friend of Jadianna’s mother, visited a makeshift memorial of balloons and teddy bears at the housing complex fence line on Saturday. If Rivera killed Jadiannna, she could not understand why.

“He loved the little girl,” Casborn said. “She was calling him Daddy.”

Mike Miner, a former resident of the housing complex who was visiting a friend there Saturday, said he knew Jadianna and her mother. He said the mother had lived in the community for several years and was on disability and in a rehabilitation program.

Miner said he often would see the girl and her mother heading to school. Jadianna would be on her blue bicycle with pink wheels, while the mom walked.

“Jadianna loved to draw,” Miner said. “She always drew pictures of horses.”

The Glenn County Sheriff’s Office had been investigating the death of a girl, thought to be between 5 and 10 years old, whose burned body was found Thursday morning in a rural area about 90 miles northwest of Sacramento.

Glenn County Sheriff Richard Warren said firefighters responded about 10:22 a.m. Thursday to a report of a vegetation fire off a rural county road.

Volunteer firefighters in the small town of Artois, Calif., about 90 miles northwest of Sacramento, found a body – now known to be Jadianna’s – as they extinguished the fire along County Road D, a third of a mile south of Road 33, which burned undergrowth near a grove of cottonwood trees between two orchards.

A 40-foot area of singed earth and a tiny speck of yellow police line were all that remained Saturday to signal their gruesome find: a charred suitcase with a small female body inside, according to the local newspaper, The Sacramento Valley Mirror.

In the hours since, someone had planted a red celosia plant near an aloe plant wilted by the flames. The scene still smelled of char Saturday, but was deceptively peaceful as the wind rustled the leaves of the cottonwood trees.

Dominica Mateo, a checker at the Artois Market, said the news shook the small town.

“Things like that don’t happen here. It’s a close-knit community,” said Mateo, who has lived in Glenn County most of her life. She said she didn’t know of any connection the suspect had with the community. She speculated that whoever killed the child may have been looking for a quiet place off the highway.

Artois – not much more than a post office and store – fits that bill.

“Yesterday was a sad day. You just want to go home and hold your little ones,” Mateo said. “Why here? Why Artois? Why County Road D?”

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