SAN DIEGO — Months of detailed work by a Riverside County deputy coroner resulted in a sort of tragic success Tuesday when scattered bones found in a remote canyon were identified as those of a 7-year-old San Diego girl missing for 15 months.
Alan Kunzman insisted on literally sifting the dirt that finally led to the discovery of teeth that were key to identifying the victim. And it was Kunzman's persistence in tracing hundreds of missing-persons reports that ended in the match-up with Charitie Careins, who was last seen near a Pacific Beach camping area.
"I have children and I couldn't stand here and leave things undone," the deputy coroner said. "This little girl was a human being, and there is no reason to allow a heavy schedule to allow her to be put in a block and forgot about."
Dental records matched against nine teeth found in San Timoteo Canyon, off California 60 about 120 miles northeast of San Diego, led to the identification, Kunzman said.
The cause of death is unknown, but Kunzman said the discovery of seven fractured ribs indicates that the girl suffered severe trauma. Although an exact time of death has not been determined, Kunzman said the condition of the bones--no traces of tissue were discovered--indicates the girl most likely died soon after she was reported missing on Aug. 6, 1988.
Events leading to the identification began June 25, when two hikers in the area discovered a human skull, Kunzman said. Follow-up searches turned up more bones. However, it was not until a fourth search of the canyon, conducted by Kunzman in late July, that investigators found the teeth and lower jaw.