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Police search park after toddler's body parts discovered

Police searching for more clues at Garfield Park in Chicago
Police searching for more clues at Garfield Park in Chicago

Detectives investigating a lagoon at a Chicago park where dismembered body parts of a young child were discovered waded through cattail reeds and waist-high water yesterday, hoping to find more clues about the victim's identity.

A dog with a K-9 unit sniffed though shrubbery, branches and boulders on the edge of Garfield Park on the city's west side, while investigators felt the muddy lagoon bottom with their hands.

The search began Saturday afternoon after someone reported seeing what turned out to be a left foot floating in the lagoon. Officers later found a decomposed right foot and a hand about 25 yards away, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

Police said Sunday night that officers had recovered additional body parts from the park and categorized the case as a death investigation. The department declined to release any further details about the later discoveries.

Jason Ervin, the alderman for the district, said investigators told him the victim was likely 2 to 4 years old. Kids that age, Ervin said Sunday, would be noticed by relatives or neighbors if they went missing.

"It is unthinkable that someone would dismember a child and throw them into the lagoon," he said.

Investigators haven't determined the child's identity, Guglielmi said. He said detectives were going through Chicago-area missing persons cases to determine if there could be a link. There was no indication the remains were from more than one child, Ervin said.

Residents gathered on the perimeter of the park Sunday, speculating about how a child's remains may have ended up there. Perry Starks, 58, who lives a few blocks away, said there had been no alerts recently about any missing child.

"Usually someone would be asking, 'Where's my child?'" he said. "We haven't heard anything like that."

A dozen detectives could be seen walking around the lagoon on an unseasonably hot day in the grim search for more remains. A police chaplain also arrived, saying as he walked by reporters that he was there "to provide moral support" to officers. He didn't give his name.

Guglielmi said police might be to drain the lagoon to make the search easier.

Residents described the park as a sanctuary for the lower-income community, with the lagoon that attracts urban fishermen and boaters, a swimming pool, baseball and football fields, as well as a vast, glass conservatory with palm trees and other exotic plants.

Garfield Park is well-patrolled and considered safe, said Ricky Smith, 54, who lives in the area.

"People come to this park because there are never shenanigans here," he said.

Starks said he recalls a fisherman snagging a body in the lagoon about 15 years ago. But he said he doesn't recall corpses being discovered on its grounds since that incident.

The recovery of a toddler's remains comes as the popularity of the park has boomed, including after extensive renovations, the alderman said.

"Garfield Park is the jewel of the West Side," he said. "This should not be a reflection on this community."

- AP