- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The slaying of an 8-year-old girl and the arrest of a teenage neighbor boy has sent shockwaves through normally calm Santa Cruz, but the horrific crime is just the latest tragedy to remove a layer of tranquility from the beachside community.

Santa Cruz residents, many who spent more than 24 hours hoping, searching and praying for the safe return of Madyson “Maddy” Middleton, grappled Tuesday with the devastating news that a body believed to be that of the girl was found shortly before 8 p.m. Monday in a trash bin at the apartment complex where she lived with her mother.

Police arrested a 15-year-old boy who lives in the complex, and as officers took him into custody in the parking lot, screams pierced the night as his mother frantically approached police and neighbors, crying and asking why her son was in handcuffs. Police and FBI agents swarmed the complex and cordoned it off as a result of the gruesome discovery.

Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel said it wasn’t clear if the suspect and the girl knew each other. The boy’s name has not been released because of his age. More details were expected to be released at a news conference Tuesday.

Early Tuesday, a coroner’s van pulled up to the complex and later left.

Neighbors who know the teenager were floored by his arrest.

“From what I know, he’s very well spoken and has a very kind manner,” Terrance Kelly told reporters. “It’s just shocking situation altogether.”

Vogel called the discovery of the little girl’s body, after more than a day of intense searching, “heartbreaking.”

The tight-knit oceanside town of 62,000 is unaccustomed to such violence. But in recent years, a number of high-profile crimes has threatened to shatter Santa Cruz’s idyllic image.

In 2013, Detective Sgt. Loran “Butch” Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler were shot and killed by a barista who was being investigated for a misdemeanor sexual assault, authorities said. The city had never before lost an officer in the line of duty.

“The last time I stood in front of a group like this and spoke was when my two officers were killed, and it feels just like it did that night,” Vogel said at a packed news conference. “It’s terrible.”

Madyson vanished about 5 p.m. Sunday while riding her white Razor scooter outside the Tannery Arts Center at 1050 River St. The girl’s mother, Laura Jordan, lives at the center, which provides 100 units of affordable housing for artists.

Search dogs tracked Madyson’s scent to a beach 2 miles away, but her whereabouts weren’t known until Monday evening.

Prior to making the grim discovery of Madyson’s body, searchers found a helmet similar to one the girl was wearing in a wooded area near the Tannery Arts Center.

On Monday evening, before the teen was taken into custody, roughly 40 FBI agents fanned out across the complex to search apartments, interview residents and collect DNA samples from people.

Santa Cruz police requested the assistance of the FBI to beef up resources to search for the girl.

Madyson was last seen alive about 5 p.m. Sunday, riding around the apartment complex on her scooter. Police also released video surveillance images showing her playing at 5:05 p.m. Sunday.

Henry K. Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @henryklee

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