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Human remains found in Moreno Valley, but it is not known if they are of missing teenager [Updated]

July 20, 2010 |  4:45 pm

Human remains were found in a Moreno Valley neighborhood this afternoon, but authorities did not know whether they were of a 17-year-old girl who police believe may have been kidnapped last week while walking home from summer school.

[Updated at 5:10 p.m.: The remains were found in a remote farming area around Dracaea Avenue and Theodore Street at the far east end of Moreno Valley, a few miles from Valley View High School where Norma Lopez was a student. The body has yet to be identified as male or female.

Barin Butler, 44, who owns a horse ranch near the scene where the body was found said he had been driving around his property the day before and did not see anything suspicious. 

“Whoever it is, it’s still bad,” he said. “But I hope it’s not the girl who’s missing.”]

Lopez was reported missing about 12:30 p.m. Thursday by her older sister, Sonja, after she failed to return home from summer school. She was out of class at Valley View High School by 10 a.m. and had plans to meet her older sister and another friend, authorities said.

Investigators said they found some of Norma's belongings in a vacant field along Cottonwood Avenue. They are also looking for the driver and passengers of a newer-model green SUV seen near the dirt field at the time of her disappearance.

Norma was last seen wearing a white, horizontal-striped sleeveless shirt with a floral pattern and black jeans.

Earlier Tuesday, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department announced a $35,000 reward for any information leading to the return of Lopez or the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for her abduction.

Sgt. Joe Borja said there is no evidence that Norma ran away, and authorities said earlier that they had found several of her personal items abandoned in an empty field she used as a shortcut, indicating a possible struggle.

Investigators from the Sheriff’s Department and the FBI have interviewed dozens of friends and associates, as well as local felons and others who crossed paths with police, and are no closer to solving the case.

“We are still seeking any information from the public, and we are following up on every lead,” Borja said.
Norma’s mother and father appeared before the news media at Moreno Valley City Hall to plead for help and her safe return.

“If someone has her or knows about her, please … just call. We just need to know about her,” her father, Martin, said in Spanish. “It’s destroying us. Every day that passes, every hour.”

Authorities urged anyone with information about the case to call (877) 242-4345, or send an e-mail to findnorma@riversidesheriff.org.

-- Phil Willon in Moreno Valley