Los Angeles County sheriff's authorities said today that they suspect foul play in the death of a 16-year-old Cypress girl whose body was found covered with pine needles hours after she had been reported missing by her parents.
The fully clothed body of Zuleima Valdez was discovered at 5:45 p.m. Monday by two teen-agers riding bicycles in a dirt area on the east side of the Coyote Creek flood control channel bike path, Sheriff's Deputy Chris Wahla said. The channel marks the border between Cypress and Lakewood, as well as the boundary separating Orange and Los Angeles counties.
There were no visible signs of trauma to the body, Wahla said. However, the body appeared to be covered with pine needles in an amount more than normal for that area, which has sparked an investigation by the sheriff's homicide division. No further details will be available until an autopsy is completed this week, Wahla added.
The girl's body was found in a concave dirt area 56 feet north of the bike path and about 200 yards from the intersection of Carson and Centralia streets in Lakewood. The location is about 20 feet east of pine trees that rim Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Cypress, Wahla said.
Zuleima was a freshman at Cypress High School, said Principal Jack D. Weber, who described her as an average to above-average student who was quiet and well-behaved. The school flag flew at half-staff today in her honor.
The girl moved to Cypress from New York about two years ago, said Pat Savage, principal of Lexington Junior High School, where Zuleima attended eighth grade.
Her parents reported her missing to Cypress police at 1:25 a.m. Monday, Lt. John Schaefer said. She was last seen at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, when she left her home with a friend to go to the beach, Wahla said.