SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — A teenage boy arrested in the death of an 8-year-old Santa Cruz girl who went missing over the weekend allegedly lured the child into his apartment before killing her and dumping her body in a recycling bin, police said Tuesday.
The 15-year-old boy -- who lived in the same complex as the victim -- has been arrested on suspicion of murder in the case, according to Santa Cruz Police Department Chief Kevin Vogel. His name has not been released.
"Investigators have located evidence that links the suspect to this horrific crime," Vogel said.
That evidence includes Middleton's belongings, witness statements and video, police said.
The victim, Madyson "Maddy" Middleton, and the suspect were acquainted because they both lived in the Tannery Arts Center apartment complex, according to the police chief. It appeared that the girl was "lured" to the suspect's apartment willingly, Vogel told KTLA.
"She knew him. She was 8 years old. I think she had a reasonable amount of trust in him," Vogel told the station. "We don't believe she was taken there against her will."
Middleton was initially reported missing shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday. She had last been seen about an hour earlier, riding her scooter away from her home at 1030 River St., according to authorities. Surveillance video showed her riding around the complex, the chief said.
"It's my belief that she was killed before we even got the phone call on Sunday night," Vogel said.
Before the girl's body was found, the victim's mother told television station KSBW that her daughter had been riding a brand new white Razor scooter and had a black helmet on.
"She was wearing a purple dress, and she was just happy as could be, riding around," mother Laura Jordan said.
Her disappearance prompted an "exhausted and extensive" search, which included the Santa Cruz Police Department, a Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team, the FBI and a specially trained K-9 unit from the State Office of Emergency Services, according to Vogel.
Shortly before 8 p.m. Monday, during a "secondary and more thorough canvass of the complex," a Santa Cruz police detective discovered a small female body in a recycling bin. The bin was inside an enclosure in a first-floor parking structure at the complex, Vogel said.
"Maddy's body was concealed in a recycle bin in a way that was not obvious, or readily apparent," Vogel said.
The boy was close to the bin when the body was found, and he was taken into custody almost immediately, the chief said. He was believed to have acted alone.
Vogel said investigators believed the girl was put into the bin, downstairs from the suspect's apartment, shortly after she was killed.
"We've determined Maddy was murdered inside of the suspect's apartment," the police chief said. "She was carried downstairs to the recycle bin, where she was concealed within the recycle bin."
A cause of death has not been released yet, and authorities were awaiting forensic tests to determine whether the young girl was sexually assaulted.
"As a parent myself ... this has just been absolutely devastating for me personally, and for my staff," Vogel said. "My staff was so hopeful that we were going to find her -- alive. And when the news came last night that she was not alive, it was horrible."
The teen's name was not being released due to his age. He was interviewed by police into the early morning hours Tuesday and was subsequently arrested, said Vogel, who would not discuss what the boy said.
A neighbor who said he had known the teen for a long time described him as a "very well-spoken, seemingly nice young man." The teen was a yo-yo expert who took a ceramics class at Santa Cruz High and helped out at artist studios at the complex, another neighbor told the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper.
The complex where the suspect and victim lived includes about 100 affordable-housing loft units, according to the Tannery Arts Center website.
The suspect was being held in the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Detention Center, according to Vogel, who said he did not know about any history of mental illness for the boy.
Video showed him being taken away in handcuffs on Monday evening.
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell said prosecutors were reviewing law enforcement reports and will later decide which charges to file, and whether to charge the teen as an adult.
"Based on the information that we know at this point, there do appear to be charges that can be filed as an adult, and we are absolutely considering that," Rosell said.