The horrific sexual assault and slaying of 11-year-old Maria Gonzalez has left her family and local police in Pasadena, Texas, perplexed as to who’s behind the “very violent” killing on Saturday, with her eerie final messages indicating that a stranger was knocking on her apartment door.
That final text was sent by Maria to her dad, Carmelo Gonzalez, around 9:45 a.m. Saturday—about 30 minutes after Carmelo had left Maria at their apartment alone to go to work, Pasadena Police Chief Josh Bruegger said Tuesday.
Bruegger said Carmelo has been cleared as a suspect in his daughter’s murder. He said Carmelo frantically returned home around 3 p.m. Saturday after Maria stopped responding to his texts. Before he got there, Carmelo dispatched the girl’s aunt and uncle to check on her, but she was nowhere to be found, Bruegger said.
The chief said Carmelo searched in and around his apartment frantically for Maria, eventually making a harrowing discovery—she’d been killed and stuffed under a bed.
“They left her under the bed in a plastic bag,” he told Fox 26. “They left my poor daughter.”
Bruegger said Carmelo was quickly cleared as a suspect because he had proof he’d been at work, and no other suspects have been identified.
He said the Harris County Medical Examiner determined Maria died from asphyxia due to strangulation and blunt force head and neck trauma. Bruegger said evidence showed that the girl was also sexually assaulted in what he described as a “very brutal” and “very violent crime.”
Bruegger said there were no signs of forced entry at the apartment, and the front door was unlocked when Maria’s aunt and uncle arrived to check on her.
Carmelo told Univision that Maria was sending him voice and text messages through WhatsApp about the stranger knocking on the door.
“I told her not to open the door because I was arriving at work,” Carmelo said. He later added, “They took my girl, what I loved the most.”
Carmelo said Maria was “an educated, respected girl” who was “very calm.” He’d recently moved with her to Pasadena from Austin, Texas, after a stint living together in Florida, Bruegger said. They’d been in the United States for four years, and in the Pasadena apartment for about three months. Bruegger said it was a “pretty quiet” apartment complex largely made up of Guatemalan immigrants. No one else lived with Carmelo and Maria, and her mother lives in Guatemala, he said.
One unnamed resident of the complex told Fox 26 that Maria was “such an angel.”
Given the time of day, Bruegger said he believes that someone in the complex must have seen Maria’s killer.
“Whoever saw something just after 10 a.m. on Saturday at that particular apartment, we're asking them to come forward with the information,” he said. “It seems awfully suspicious that dad leaves for work and, you know, within 30 minutes you've got somebody knocking at the door.”
Locating a witness may be the police's best chance at solving the murder. Bruegger said the apartment complex—located about 13 miles southeast of Houston—had security cameras, but they were damaged by recent storms and are believed to have been inoperable over the weekend.
Bruegger insinuated that some residents of the complex have been hesitant to work with detectives because of their immigration status. He said he instructed his officers to make clear that their only priority is finding Maria’s killer.
“I’m here to tell you immigration status in a case like this, that’s neither here nor there,” Bruegger said. “The important thing is solving this case and getting the community safe.”
Given the suspected randomness of the slaying and Maria’s age, Bruegger said the case will be a priority. He said it hit especially close to home because he has a 10-year-old daughter himself.
DNA evidence from the scene has been sent to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, Bruegger said, but that process can be “time consuming.”
“We're working on trying to identify which pieces of evidence are most important, at this point, to try to get that processed as soon as we can,” Bruegger said. “This case is very important to us and anytime you have a death of a child, one that has been sexually assaulted, it's very brutal.”