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Posted 11 Jun 2001   For week ended June 08, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 10Jun01

By Kent Larsen

Phoenix Tragedy: 8-year-old Murdered LDS Girl Buried

PHOENIX, ARIZONA -- An eight-year-old Phoenix girl was remembered at a chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in her west Phoenix neighborhood Saturday and buried in an east Phoenix cemetery as television cameras rolled. Elizabeth Ann Byrd was murdered Wednesday, May 23rd as she traveled to her school that morning.

The murder has caused shock waves throughout her neighborhood and the Phoenix area. Her family didn't worry when she was late coming home from school, assuming that she had gone to a friends' house, but eventually called police at 11 pm. Police reached her third-grade teacher at 2:30 am, learning that she hadn't been in school Wednesday, and by the following afternoon discovered her body in gravel pits about 200 yards from her school.

According to news accounts, Elizabeth went to school just before 8:45 am that day. In past years she was accompanied by her 9-year-old brother, Jason, but the school changed to a staggered schedule for this year, "I usually walk to school with her, but they changed the time for third grade," said Jason. "Now I go earlier." School officials now say they will do away with its staggered start times next year.

The circumstances of her disappearance led to questions about the school's actions. School officials normally notify parents within two hours when a child doesn't show up for class, but Elizabeth's family, which doesn't have a phone, was not notified that she hadn't come to school. In such cases, the schools may send an officer to the home, "But you can't do that with every child," said Connie Stoffels, Laveen Elementary School District superintendent.

Police have released little information about the crime and the leads that they have. Elizabeth was apparently abducted along her half-mile-long route to school, which borders on an area known as "The Pits," abandoned weedy gravel quarries. Along with the girl's body, police also collected evidence in the area, "I can't go into what that evidence is. But if we find the guy, we can prove the case," said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

While police can't say that they have arrested a suspect yet, they are holding two men for questioning in the case, and one of the two men was beaten severely by fellow inmates, who apparently assumed he was a suspect. Meanwhile police are still looking for further leads in the case, which they are building carefully, "We're not out for a quick arrest," Police Sgt. Don Rosenberger said. "Our goal is the courtroom. We're not going to rush into a mistake and screw this case up."

News coverage of the murder has also focused on the neighborhood where Elizabeth lived and died. The Arizona Republic called the neighborhood a "forgotten corner of the city," under served by city services and youth programs. It is bordered by "property-value killers such as the 27th Avenue Landfill, the 23rd Avenue sewage-treatment plant" and a "Tent City" jail, according to the Republic. Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza admitted, "It is a neighborhood that is struggling. We're trying to encourage investment around there but it's a slow process."

But while the neighborhood is poor and under served, it isn't particularly violent, at least not since a gang problem died down in recent years. Phoenix police statistics show that violent crimes in the neighborhood declined to 17 reports last year from 22 in 1999 and 47 in 1998. But children that live there have little to do, "I always got the feeling that children in this neighborhood are not looked upon as being very important," said Jessie Rubio, who has lived there 25 years. "There's no Boys and Girls Club. There's no real interaction. It is kind of a forgotten community."

Meanwhile, church members in Elizabeth's congregation have reached out to help the family. A neighbor, Charla Hunsaker, has sent casseroles over to the family, and others in the neighborhood have raised $6,000 in funeral expenses and established a memorial fund. Her funeral Saturday attracted many people who didn't know her, neighbors brought together in a show of unity in the face of her death. Local businesses have donated much of the value of the funeral services provided, including those provided by the funeral home, and a funeral escort service.

At the funeral, Elizabeth was remembered as a loving, kind child who loved music and wanted to be a famous singer when she grew up. "She loved those songs," said her sister-in-law, Diane Jones, "She alwasy said she wanted to be a famous singer." Songs from her favorite musicians were played at the burial.

The neighborhood is much more alert to dangers now, residents say. Parents are driving their children to school each morning, and neighbor Petra Barajas says she is looking at joining a Block Watch. "I didn't think something like this would happen," said Barajas. "You see them (children) walking all the time. We were asleep. People are really awake now." She is praying for an arrest, "They have to find him. We're not going to sleep if they don't."

Neighbor Jacob George says the neighborhood has been strongly affected by the murder, "It's going to take a long time for the neighborhood to get over this. I've seen a lot of bad stuff, drugs, violence, all kinds of stuff," he said. "But nothing like this. This is bad. It shouldn't have happened."


Girl, 8, is slain on way to school
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 25May01 D2
By Tom Zoellner: The Arizona Republic

'Good lead' held in girl's murder
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 26May01 D2
By Christina Leonard: The Arizona Republic

Girl lived in forgotten corner of city
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 27May01 D2
By Tom Zoellner: The Arizona Republic

Police still seek leads in murder of girl, 8
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 27May01 D2

Sex assault, choking tied to slaying
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 31May01 D2
By Tom Zoellner: The Arizona Republic

Neighbors 'awake now' after girl's murder
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 1Jun01 D2
By Judi Villa and Christina Leonard: The Arizona Republic

Slaying 'lead' likely beaten as 'suspect'
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 2Jun01 D2
By Tom Zoellner: The Arizona Republic

Slain girl, dream buried to tunes of her favorites
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 3Jun01 D2
By Carlos Miller: The Arizona Republic


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