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Body Identified as Missing Teenager

Brenda Sierra was last seen Friday morning. Authorities are investigating her death.

October 22, 2002|John L. Mitchell and Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writers

A body found in the San Bernardino mountains was identified Monday as that of a 15-year-old East Los Angeles girl who disappeared three days earlier after she left home for a friend's house.

Family members of Brenda Sierra had been going door to door circulating fliers with her picture when they received the news about the body found Saturday in a community known as the Valley of Enchantment near Crestline.

Chip Patterson, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, said, "We didn't know who she was until our detectives found out about the missing girl in Los Angeles County."

The body was hidden among trees and there were injuries, he said, but he would not specify what they were.

Bud Davis, a 72-year-old retired construction worker, said he was cutting wood not far from his home when his dog "ran over in the trees and wouldn't come back. We thought it was a coyote or bear. I went over there and there she was, fully clothed. Looked like someone had kicked dirt over the body." Davis said "it looked like she had been dragged there."

Sierra had left her house on South Leonard Avenue at 7 a.m. Friday for a friend's house a few blocks away and a ride to Schurr High School in Montebello, where she was a sophomore.

"She walks to my house every single day, every day," Ashley Salgado said earlier Monday. "She gets there around 7:15, 7:20, you know. Then my mom honks the horn and we leave for school, every single day."

Salgado said she and her mother assumed Sierra was sick when she did not arrive. But family members became alarmed when she failed to show up for an appointment at a hair salon after school. Sheriff's deputies were called by 6 p.m., but they didn't arrive until 10 p.m., Sierra's brother Jaime said.

The deputies cautioned family members that she might have run away, he said.

But relatives insisted that Sierra never left home without saying where she was going.

"She was just a caring, loving person," said her 14-year-old brother, Rafael Sierra. "She would call my parents whenever she went out."

The cause of death is under investigation by the San Bernardino County coroner's office.

The homicide is being investigated jointly by San Bernardino and Los Angeles county sheriff's detectives, Patterson said.

Family and friends had spent the weekend searching the streets for Sierra.

Monday night, outside the stucco house she shared with her parents and four siblings, a small shrine grew as neighbors brought candles and flowers.

Salgado, Sierra's best friend since the fifth grade, said her fondest memory was of Sierra's quinceanera last summer at a hotel in Commerce with her friends and family. That night, the girls shared a room at the hotel, Salgado said, and "she was so happy. We talked about it all night.

"I keep thinking it's all a dream, and tomorrow I'm going to wake up and she's going to come to my house skipping," she said.

Yoana Manzano, another friend, remembered Monday night how Sierra, who did well in math and science, would ask Manzano if she had done her homework. Sierra, she said, always had done her own.

Sierra's oldest brother, Jaime, 23, said the family is "mourning right now. Mad, angry, whatever. Right now, were just sad for her."

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