Police confirm body is Cecilia
In a tragic end to the mysterious disappearance of nine-year-old Cecilia Zhang, the little girl's remains were identified today, the police said.
Her body had been found in a Missisauga ravine on Saturday, following an intensive search for the gifted Grade 4 student that attracted international attention.
Cecilia would have turned 10 on March 30.
Her parents had been in the midst of planning a birthday party with friends, neighbours and teachers to honour their daughter.
Described as an avid reader and budding pianist, Cecilia was discovered missing the morning of Oct. 20 when her mother went into her bedroom to wake her for school.
A broken screen window at the rear of the top floor of the two-storey home suggested an abduction.
Shortly after Cecilia was reported missing, police issued an Amber Alert, signalling to motorists on electronic highway signs and in the media that the little girl was taken against her will and in potential danger.
Police then began an intense search of the northeast Toronto neighbourhood where Cecilia lived with her parents, Raymond Zhang and Sherry Xu, and her 75-year-old grandfather.
Raymond Zhang, a computer programmer, and his wife, who runs a combination day care and language school, also had rented the bottom part of the home to five students from nearby Seneca College to help pay for their mortgage.
The Zhangs had moved out of their home temporarily shortly after their only child was reported missing so forensic teams could collect evidence in a case that attracted international media interest.
Police also kept in touch with the Chinese Consulate about the investigation.
At first, Cecilia's parents were so distraught that they would only issue statements through police pleading for the safe return of their daughter.
They made their first public appearance Oct. 24 in a heartrending news conference.
Since then, Cecilia's parents, backed by members of the Chinese community, started a Web site and were involved in numerous other efforts to keep Cecilia's abduction in the public eye.
Volunteers distributed thousands of flyers and posters bearing Cecilia's picture and describing her as four-foot-11 and 70 pounds with shiny black hair and blonde highlights. The flyers were distributed throughout Toronto subways and buses, on taxis, and in shopping and other public areas.
Police initially focused their search efforts on the middle-class neighbourhood in northeast Toronto where the Zhang family lives and a two-kilometre radius of the area, with police and special search teams and detector dogs aiding in the hunt.
But police soon ruled out that the abduction was the random act of a predator, and said that the possibility Cecilia was kidnapped for profit was one of the "themes" they were exploring.
They later spent two days northwest of Toronto canvassing patrons of a Tim Hortons doughnut shop and a rural general store where calls were made from two pay phones to Cecilia's home on Oct. 20 before she was reported missing.
When part of reward money put up by the community was retracted, Raymond and Sherry offered their home in exchange for their daughter's safe return.
The case garnered international media, including authorites in China working with the Toronto police to help find Cecilia, and attention from the television show America's Most Wanted to generate more tips.
On Nov. 12, police took the unusual step of assuring the public that Cecilia's parents were not suspects in the case.
They also released copies of her schoolwork and a video of Cecilia's March birthday party.
Cecilia's abduction came less than six months after the disappearance of 10-year-old Holly Jones, who disappeared while walking home after visiting a friend. The remains of Holly's body were found in Lake Ontario, and computer worker Michael Briere was later charged.