RUSKIN, Fla. (AP) — Authorities said yesterday they were “almost positive” they have found the body of a missing 13-year-old girl after recovering a corpse from a pond that appeared to match her description down to her green arm cast.
Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said the body was found in an abandoned fish camp about a half-mile from Sarah Michelle Lunde’s home. Sheriff Gee said the cast was apparent when the body was found; Sarah had a bright green half cast from a left wrist injury.
About 200 volunteers had joined detectives yesterday in a search for the teenager, some hugging and crying as helicopters buzzed overhead.
“We’re almost positive it’s her. Everything matches the description,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.
Authorities said they hoped to determine a positive identification and cause of death during an autopsy.
“The family is very distraught. It’s a tough time for them,” Sheriff Gee said.
Sarah was last seen April 9, shortly after she returned home from a church trip and about the time a registered sex offender unexpectedly paid a visit to her family’s home. The teen was reported missing two days later when her mother learned she wasn’t at a friend’s home.
Sheriff Gee has said that David Onstott, who once dated the girl’s mother, has drawn investigators’ attention, but he has not been named a suspect.
Mr. Onstott, 36, was being held after he was arrested Tuesday for purportedly threatening a man with a screwdriver at a bar. He spent 5 years in prison after being convicted in 1995 of sexual battery with physical force.
Sheriff Gee said he thinks the body had been in the pond since shortly after Sarah disappeared. He said searchers would keep looking for articles of clothing Sarah might have been wearing at the time of her disappearance.
The sheriff said investigators also would test beer bottles found by volunteers yesterday for DNA evidence after Sarah’s brother told detectives that Mr. Onstott took a half-empty bottle of Budweiser or Bud Light during his pre-dawn visit to the home.
The fathers of two previously slain girls have been involved in the search for Sarah: Mark Lunsford, whose 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, was found dead last month after disappearing from her Citrus County home, and Roy Brown, whose 7-year-old daughter, Amanda, was killed by a convicted child molester in 1997.
Mr. Brown said he was concerned about Sarah’s mother.
“I just wanted the mom to know I’m here. Because things change, once the media and the searchers go, once it’s all over, she still needs people,” he said.