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Texas cops identify person of interest after 11-year-old girl found sexually assaulted and murdered in laundry basket

Juan Carlos Garcia-Rodriguez, Maria Gonzalez

Juan Carlos Garcia-Rodriguez (inset left), Maria Gonzalez (inset right); also pictured: the apartment complex where Gonzalez was found strangled to death (images via KTRK screengrab)

Law enforcement in Texas has identified a person of interest in the strangulation murder and sexual assault of Maria Gonzalez, an 11-year-old girl found dead last Sunday in a laundry basket under a bed.

“Although we continue combing through multiple evidentiary items, including digital media, no arrests have been made; however,” Juan Carlos Garcia-Rodriguez, 18, the identified person of interest, “was residing at the same apartment complex where the victim was found but has since left,” the Pasadena Police Department said in an update on the investigation Friday.

At a news conference on Friday afternoon, police said they had obtained DNA from Garcia-Rodriguez last week and are waiting for results back from the forensic lab.

Garcia-Rodriguez was last seen at 4 p.m. on Monday and his current whereabouts are unknown. He had been living at the apartment complex for the last three to four weeks, police said.

When news of the horrific case first emerged, it was revealed that Maria’s father Carmelo Gonzalez found her dead under a bed at the Main Village apartment complex where the two lived for the last three months. Cops said that the father had an alibi that checked out and that he was not considered a suspect.

Cops said that Carmelo Gonzalez left the apartment Saturday around 10 a.m. for work and had kept in contact with his daughter via text. The girl reportedly said in one message to her father that a person was at the door of the apartment and knocking.

“I told her don’t open the door because I am arriving at work, and she responded I am in my bed,” Gonzalez said, according to Fox 26.

More Law&Crime coverage: Dad comes home from work and finds 11-year-old daughter sexually assaulted and strangled in laundry basket under bed

According to Gonzalez, speaking in Spanish in an interview with KTRK, he asked family members who also lived in the apartment complex to check on Maria, but those family members did not see or hear anything at the scene (the girl’s mother is reportedly living in Guatemala). The father reportedly said that he arrived home five hours after receiving the text about the person knocking on the door.

After that, he made the grisly discovery of his daughter dead in a plastic bag inside a laundry basket under his bed.

“Unfortunately, they left her under the bed in a plastic bag, they left my poor daughter,” Gonzalez told Fox 26.

Carmelo Gonzalez

Carmelo Gonzalez speaks after his daughter Maria was found dead in a Pasadena apartment in Texas (KTRK/screengrab)

Police briefly addressed evidentiary findings in their Friday update.

“While investigators were pressing the crime scene, a single key was located inside the apartment and collected as evidence. This key has since been processed by our crime scene investigators and was not found to open any doors at the victim’s residence,” cops said. “Our investigators also confirmed that the young girl’s body was found inside a plastic trash bag that was placed inside a laundry basket and concealed under a bed inside the home.”

Police confirmed Garcia-Rodriguez is from Guatemala and was in the U.S. illegally. Garcia-Rodriguez entered the U.S. as a minor as recently as January via El Paso, police said.

Law&Crime reached out to DHS for comment.

Noting that there is an up to $5,000 Crime Stoppers reward for tips leading to the eventual capture of a suspect, whoever that may be, Pasadena Police stated that “[a]ll apartment complex employees, including the maintenance staff, have fully cooperated with our investigation and at this point do not appear to be involved.”

Earlier this week, Pasadena Police Chief Josh Bruegger attempted to reassure Pasadena undocumented immigrants who may be hesitant to come forward for fear of deportation.

“I’m here to tell you immigration status on a case like this, that’s neither here nor there. The important thing is solving this case and getting the community safe,” Bruegger said.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.