The body of a murdered 12-year-old girl in a Salt Lake City suburb was discovered early Friday morning at a horse pasture near her home.
Kayley Vijil, who was found less than half a mile from her home in West Valley City after her mother rushed to a local 7-Eleven around 1.30am to speak to police because she could not find her daughter.
West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo said that the girl had not been contacted by her parents since midnight, when she was lured from her house by a 15-year-old boy from the neighborhood who did not know her or the family well.
Her body, which showed signs of trauma, was found at 3am less than four blocks away.
Police say they are treating the case as a murder and that the 15-year-old suspect was taken into custody around 1.30pm Friday. He will initially be charged with murder as a juvenile.
West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo said it appeared that there was no prior relationship between the two, yet the teen somehow was able to convince the young girl to walk outside her house at midnight and go with him.
“I believe a good-natured child was fooled and unfortunately made a mistake she paid the ultimate price for,” Russo said. “This young girl thought she was helping somebody.”
The chief said evidence was collected that linked the boy to the crime. Detectives were led to the teen based on information given to them by neighbors.
“He was known in the community, that’s how we were able to develop these leads,” he said.
Yellow police tape surrounded the boy’s home, near 5000 West and 3400 South, where a search warrant was served Friday afternoon. His name was not immediately released. He was booked into the Salt Lake County Juvenile Detention Center for investigation of murder.
That boy went to Kailey’s door and said something that convinced her to go with him.
“There was a statement that was made that enticed her to come out (of the house). There was a dialogue in which she agreed to go outside,” Russo said. “She did leave with an individual that was unknown to the family around midnight.”
It’s unclear what exactly the teen said to lure her outside, but Russo said she believed she was helping the boy. One neighbor who lives near the Vijils said the same boy asked his teenage sisters about 11:45 p.m. Thursday if they would help him find a pregnant cat.
Neighbors said the boy had been asking other girls in the neighborhood over the past couple of days if they wanted to play with him in the field. Mia Montana, who is 8 years old, said the boy tried to lure her to a fort behind an abandoned house two days ago. She said she declined and told her parents.
“It just scared me, and I when I’m scared I’m supposed to go tell my mom,” she said. “I was in shock because I know about girls being kidnapped and I just want to stay with my family and be happy.”
Stephanie Sala, who lives next door to the teen, said the same teen asked her 5-year-old niece if she wanted to play with him.
“I had said no because he hadn’t asked for my 5-year-old son, my 10-year-old nephew or my 12-year-old son to come and play. He just asked us for the 5-year-old little girl to come and play,” she said.
Police did not say how many people were in Kailey’s house when the boy came to the door or how many were awake. However, Russo said Kailey’s mother knew her daughter was leaving with the boy, but it was unclear if she knew where her daughter was going or why she allowed her to leave.
“This isn’t about parenting, this is about a homicide,” the chief reminded the media. “This is about a tragedy that happened to a family and to a community.”
When her daughter didn’t come back, the mother became worried and went looking for her. About 1:30 a.m., Kailey’s mother ran into two West Valley police officers at a 7-Eleven, 4807 W. 3500 South, and told them the girl was missing.
Officers started tracking Kailey by pinging her cellphone. They were led to a field near 5200 West and 3600 South just before 3 a.m., about three blocks west of the girl’s home. The overgrown horse pasture area is bordered by homes on either side, but is in the middle is a wooded area with grass that is 3 to 4 feet tall.
The officers found evidence of a “crime scene” and the girl’s body a short distance away, according to West Valley police spokeswoman Roxanne Vainuku said. Investigators said there appeared to be evidence of a struggle at the scene.
Russo said Kailey suffered some sort of trauma, but there was no evidence of a stab wound or a gunshot wound. Russo could not comment Friday if the girl was sexually assaulted. The Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office will determine the exact cause of death.
Some neighbors claimed the boy had just been released from juvenile detention, but Russo said his department had no prior dealings with him.
The 15-year-old’s family released a brief statement late Friday, saying, “Our hearts and prayers are with the Vijil family and may God comfort all families hurt by this terrible tragedy.”
Neighbor Felipe Montano said he was “sick and mad” when he heard about the death and realized how close his daughter Mia came to being lured away.
“There is a family out there that everybody needs to pray for who did lose their child who is not as lucky as we were,” he said. “Be aware of your children, keep an eye on them, watch them.”
The Deseret News