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Girls, now gone, witnessed killing

The three teens from Lakeland and one from Plant City watched the fatal shooting of a man, then disappeared.

By GRAHAM BRINK and SAUNDRA AMRHEIN
Published August 25, 2006


 
Rivas Crawford, 13
Janet Cruz, 16
Kimberly Harrington, 17
Sandra Sanchez, 17

The four teenage girls witnessed a killing and then disappeared.

Polk County authorities want to know where they are and what happened to them.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd wouldn't rule out abduction or foul play but said the teens probably were scared and hiding out. In any case, he said, they hold the key to solving what appeared to be a planned killing that unfolded early Wednesday.

"We know who they are," Judd said Thursday. "We just don't know where they are."

The missing girls are Sandra Sanchez, 17 - who sometimes goes by Cindy or Sandy - Janet Cruz, 16, and Rivas Crawford, 13, all of Lakeland, and Kimberly Harrington, 17, of Plant City.

Only Crawford attends school, which was closed Wednesday for an administrative planning day. She was considered missing and endangered because of her age. Her family said she was on the honor roll and had never run away in the past. She was supposed to sleep over Tuesday at Cruz's house, which is next door to the Crawfords'.

Detectives speculated that the four girls, who have not been seen since 10 p.m. Tuesday, may have taken refuge with friends or relatives throughout the Tampa Bay area.

The shooting that the girls witnessed took place about 12:45 a.m. Wednesday at a mobile home park in Lakeland. They were inside a mobile home with Daniel Lopez, 23, and a couple of other people.

A red Dodge Charger and a dark Chevrolet Suburban drove up, investigators said. A man and a woman, both armed, got out and walked into the mobile home. Someone shot Lopez at least once in the back, killing him, deputies said. No one else inside was hurt.

The man and the woman drove away and had not been found by late Thursday. The four girls also fled the scene, though it was unclear how they left or whether they were with anyone else.

Lopez's wife, Esemeralda, said she last saw her husband at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when he put his 1-year-old son to bed. He went out and then called about an hour later from a car, saying he was on his way home, she said.

She did not know the people who lived at the mobile home where her husband was killed, nor did she know what he was doing there.

"We never fought," she said. "I just think he was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Detectives think the shooting may be connected to an argument earlier in the evening. The details of the argument and what happened right before the shooting remained sketchy Thursday. Detectives could not say for sure whether the girls only witnessed the shooting or played some other role.

They hoped to find the girls to fill in the blanks.

Sanchez's mother, Juana Sanchez, said her daughter often went places with friends but she always came home. She last saw Sandra when she left with Crawford and Cruz at about 10 p.m.

Harrington's mother, Anita Almazan, described her daughter as rebellious and running with a bad crowd. She has run away several times and "just comes and goes." She has tried drugs, including methamphetamine, her mother said.

Almazan has not seen Harrington since Saturday, when she stopped by Almazan's rundown mobile home. She said hello and then was gone.

"I just heard the car and the back door closing," Almazan said. "She never said goodbye."

Almazan said she reported Harrington missing Tuesday, the day before the killing.

"My job is to call the cops because I'm still her mom," she said.

Anyone with information on the girls' whereabouts can call the Polk County Sheriff's Office toll-free at 1-800-226-0344 or at 863 534-6200. Crime Stoppers can relay anonymous tips at toll-free 1-800- 226-TIPS.

Information from the Lakeland Ledger and Bay News 9 was used in this report. Graham Brink can be reached at brink@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8406.

[Last modified August 27, 2006, 11:53:42]


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