Officials: Canton girl, 7, was stabbed, died of blunt force trauma to the head
by Kristal Dixon
kdixon@cherokeetribune.com
December 07, 2011 12:00 AM | 6196 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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CANTON — Jorelys Rivera, as other typical 7-year-old girls do, was playing on a playground inside her apartment complex around 5 p.m. Friday, when she left to get something to drink at her residence.

That was the last time people in the area saw her alive.

Three days later, on Monday, she was found beaten, stabbed and sexually-assaulted in a trash bin located near the front of River Ridge at Canton apartments.

As of Tuesday night, 65 investigators from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were continuing to work around the clock for the person or people responsible for what Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan calls “a very horrific and brutal murder” — one of the most gruesome to ever occur in Cherokee County.

Search warrants have been executed and hundreds of interviews have been conducted by Canton Police, the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, the GBI and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Lt. Jay Baker, spokesman for the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office.

Jorelys died of blunt force trauma to the head, Keenan said during a press conference Tuesday morning, the day after the young girl’s autopsy was performed.

Keenan said investigators believe the crime, which has horrified many in the county, occurred inside an unlocked vacant apartment unit in a building adjacent to where she lived.

There were no signs of forced entry into the unit, Keenan noted.

Keenan said the state medical examiner put the time of death at about 60 to 90 minutes after Jorelys was abducted.

After the attacks, Keenan said Jorelys’ body was disposed of inside the trash bin, which includes a trash compactor.

Investigators found her body in the large metal trash bin around noon Monday, the GBI director said, after it was moved to a vacant field near the apartment complex.

GBI spokesman John Bankhead said it was moved to give authorities more room to remove the large amount of trash.

Evidence collected at the vacant unit and from the victim is currently being processed at the GBI’s crime lab, Keenan said.

The GBI has offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction “of the child murderer,” the director said.

Keenan would not discuss the condition Jorelys’ body or the extent of the injuries she suffered in the moments leading up to the death, but added the autopsy and other evidence collected suggests “that this was a very calculated and planned crime.”

No suspects are in custody, but Keenan said investigators feel very strongly that the suspect either resides inside the complex or has regular access to the complex.

“We’re in the process of completing a timeline of the last known activities of the victim,” he said.

Canton police initially said Jorelys disappeared around 5 p.m. Friday.

Baker said the call reporting Jorelys missing came into Cherokee County E-911 at 7:12 p.m. Friday and police were dispatched at 7:15 p.m. to the apartment complex.

A 17-year-old acquaintance was supposed to be watching the child, but Baker said Jorelys had no supervision at the playground.

He also said Jorelys’ mother, Jocelin Rivera-Ruis, was at the family’s apartment unit at the time of the abduction.

Officials with Canton police, the Sheriff’s Office, the GBI and FBI, Canton Fire Department, Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), the Georgia State Defense Force and the Georgia Department of Natural Resource’s Search and Rescue Team participated in the search efforts throughout the weekend, which spanned a 1.5-mile radius of the complex.

Jorelys’ two younger siblings, ages 1 and 4, have been placed in the custody of the Cherokee County Department of Family and Children Services, because of the lack of supervision, said Canton Police Detective Candy Worthy.

Baker said the children remain in state custody.

Baker said Jorelys’ father lives in Puerto Rico.

CNN on Tuesday reported the child’s father, Ricardo Galarza, gave an interview to WAPA, its Puerto Rico affiliate.

“My world collapsed,” he said in an interview. “I couldn’t believe that they robbed her from me.”

Keenan on Monday said Jorelys’ parents are not suspects in her death.

Keenan said investigators have interviewed registered sex offenders who reside inside the apartment complex, some of who have been interviewed multiple times.

Keenan added, “We have no reason to believe” any of those interviewed had anything to do with the crime.

Baker said there are two unregistered juvenile sex offenders who live at the apartment complex.

Cherokee County School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said the district is “saddened by the tragic and untimely death” of Jorelys, and said additional counselors and support staff have been provided at Canton Elementary to help students cope with the news.

Jacoby said the district on Tuesday sent a letter home with all Canton students to inform their parents of Jorelys’ death.

“Additionally, when a Cherokee County School District student dies, the school administration is encouraged to involve students in planning any school-based memorial activities,” she said, adding Canton Elementary administrators have started discussions with student delegates on what they can do to show their respects for Jorelys.

The first memorial this week will involve students at Canton Elementary putting pink and green ribbons on display outside the school.

Residents across Cherokee County have expressed sorrow and grief at the news of Jorelys’ death.

Events encouraging residents to leave their porch lights on Monday and Tuesday nights were created on Facebook.

A candlelight vigil has also been set for 6 p.m. Friday at Heritage Park in Canton.

Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, the employer of Jorelys’ mother, has created a Jorelys Rivera Memorial Fund “to help the family address its needs and cope with this sad event,” said Pilgrim’s Pride spokeswoman Margaret McDonald.

Anyone wishing to donate can contact United Community Bank in Canton at (770) 479-6700.

Canton Police Chief Jeff Lance said the Department, the Sheriff’s Office, the GBI and the FBI are all dedicated to solving the crime and want to assure residents they are doing everything they can to solve it.

“Their goal in all this is to find this person, (and) to him where he needs to be,” he said.

Residents of the apartment complex are still shocked about the murder and spoke positively about Jorelys and her mother.

Nancy Hudgins, a resident of the apartment complex, said officials spent all weekend going through the apartment homes inside River Ridge searching for Jorelys.

She said she had previously seen Jorelys and her mother at the pool and her mother “seemed really nice.”

“The girl would always come to her mother when she called her,” she said. (She) seemed obedient ... just thought this kind of thing can’t happen here, but I guess it can happen anywhere.”

Pamela Asansa, who moved to the complex a year ago, said she baby-sits children who were friends with Jorelys and would often bring the children to play with the girl and her siblings at the apartment complex playground.

However, Asansa said the Rivera children were often unattended.

Asansa added that she went outside to help Friday night and asked Jorelys’ mother if she could be of assistance.

“She didn’t say anything,” Asansa said. “She looked like she was in shock.”

Darby Funeral Home in downtown Canton is handling the arrangements for Jorelys, however, further details could not be obtained by press time.

Anyone with information in relation to the crime is asked to call (770) 721-7852.
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