Central Falls, RI -- June 1, 1988 -- Authorities confirmed that the nude and beaten body found was that of Michelle Norris, a 7-year-old girl who had disappeared from a schoolyard here four days ago.
Authorities classified Michelle's death as a murder, bringing to five the number of young children who have died in the Providence area recently after being reported missing.
Michelle died as the result of suffocation, according to Dr. Kristin Sweeny, deputy chief medical examiner.
Throughout this crowded city of 22,000, located about five miles north of Providence, parents expressed shock that another child had died and said they were fearful because no suspect in Michelle's slaying had been captured.
While police said that Michelle had been beaten, they would not say if the beating led to the girl's death.
The state medical examiner's office in Providence said they had not determined a cause of death by late yesterday afternoon.
Following an intensive search by local and State Police, firefighters, friends and family, Michelle's body was discovered at about 6 p.m.
on the side of a hill in a desolate wooded area.
Michelle's clothes were lying next to her and, according to family members who viewed photos of the body, she was dirty and badly bruised.
The area where the body was found, located behind a dance hall on Brook Street, is a popular gathering spot for local youths, residents said.
Michelle's father, William Darryl Norris, along with other volunteers, had searched the area earlier in the day. The hill is covered with trees and debris and slopes down to a swampy marsh.
Family members and police said the girl vanished while playing in the school yard of the Capt. G. Harold Hunt Elementary School, where she was a first grader. Her body was discovered less than a half mile from the school.
At the time of her disappearance, Michelle, along with two of her brothers, Billy, 9, and Nathan, 5, were living with their maternal grandmother, Margaret Tager on Kendall Street, about three houses away from the Hunt School.
Michelle's parents, William, 26, and Julie Norris, 32, had separated recently, family members said.
The state Department of Children and Their Families placed the children in the custody of Tager after determining that Julie Norris could not care for them because of an infection.
A social worker was scheduled to visit the children for an evaluation the day after Michelle disappeared. Family members said Michelle was worried that the social worker would place her in foster care.
George Tager, Michelle's uncle and godfather, said family members did not identify the body until the next morning. "It was a pretty hard scene," he said, standing outside the gray three-story, wood-frame home that has been owned by the Tagers for nearly three decades.
Attorney General James O'Neil met with Central Falls Police Chief Robert Choquette for about 90 minutes. Throughout the day, as reporters milled about in front of the Central Falls Police Station, local police refused to comment.
"In order not to hamper the investigation or any subsequent legal proceedings, no details will be released," Choquette said in a
Outside the police station, O'Neil also remained vague about the investigation, saying only that it involved dozens of officers from local and state police, as well as officials from the attorney general's office and the FBI.
The FBI also investigated last year's disappearance of two Providence boys who were later found dead. "They have extensive experience in analyzing crime scenes," O'Neil said.
Authorities said they had leads but would not elaborate. O'Neil would not say if police had suspects, only that authorities had questioned many people, including children, in the hopes of uncovering clues.
Family members said they believe that Michelle was approached by someone she knew. "She was a mama's girl," Charles Tager said. "There's no way she would have walked off with a stranger."
Julie Norris remained in seclusion most of the day inside her mother's house. "We're afraid of falling apart because we know if one of us does we all will," George Tager said.
Meanwhile, outside the Hunt School, a large number of parents waited for children to be let out.
"I've never seen so many people here, especially the fathers," said Albert Luciano, whose daughter, Rosemary, was Michelle's classmate. "People are scared for their kids."
Since December, three boys and two girls have been found dead after disappearing from Rhode Island communities. Four of the deaths have been classified as murders and the fifth is currently labeled as a suspicious drowning.
Two persons have been charged in three of the slayings.
"It's not safe to be a kid around here," said Helen Ducette, the mother of a 10-year-old girl.
Some parents said they are scheduling a meeting where they will discuss ways to protect their children. Others said they already keep as tight a leash on their children as possible.
"I don't even let them out in the backyard by themselves," said one woman. "If I can't be there, then I put the dog out there. He won't let anyone near the kids."
Outside the Hunt School parents quickly took their children away. Some were carrying a children's book about nightmares.
"I'm going home and not letting her out until they arrest the guy who killed Michelle," said Maria Quintera. "It's sad that we are the ones who have to live like prisoners because of the crazies who are out there."
There have been no arrests made.