Death of Washington girl, 6, ruled a homicide

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SEATTLE (AP) — Authorities say an autopsy has confirmed that a body found in the woods near where a Washington girl went missing is that of 6-year-old Jenise (juh-NEES') Wright.

Earl Smith, incident commander for the Kitsap County Sheriff's office, says the coroner also ruled the death a homicide. No exact cause of death was immediately released Friday afternoon.

A sheriff's office spokesman said earlier Friday that the person responsible for the girl's disappearance likely would have been covered in mud.

Meanwhile, authorities are collecting DNA swab samples from residents who volunteer them in the Bremerton-area mobile home park where Jenise lived. The samples will be used to eliminate suspects.

Jenise was last seen when she went to bed Saturday night.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

The person who might be responsible for a 6-year-old Washington girl's death would have been "covered in mud" afterward, and authorities on Friday asked the public to report anyone who fit that description over the weekend.

The wooded area where an FBI team found a body believed to be that of Jenise Wright contained thick brush and likely was muddy, and a possible suspect would have had muddy clothing, said Scott Wilson, a spokesman with the Kitsap County sheriff's office.

Meanwhile, Wilson said authorities are collecting DNA cheek swabs from residents who volunteer them in the Bremerton-area mobile home park where Jenise lived. The samples could be used to eliminate suspects if investigators later come across DNA evidence, he said, adding the DNA collection might be expanded outside the mobile-home park.

Jenise disappeared over the weekend, and a body found Thursday in woods near the trailer park was believed to be hers. Formal identification was expected Friday.

Autopsy results revealing the manner and cause of death could be available later Friday. Authorities were focusing on a criminal investigation of the death, though so far no arrests have been made.

"We suspect that she just did not go off by herself and fall into some bushes and die," Wilson said.

The FBI's Specialty Search Dogs Unit discovered the body after volunteer canine search teams reported their dogs showed interest in a particular area.

Jenise was last seen when she went to bed Saturday night. Her parents waited a day before calling for help because they say the girl had wandered around the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park on her own in the past. She was outgoing and unafraid to talk to anyone, family said.

Wilson said Thursday there were no signs of forced entry at Jenise's home and no indication she was taken from her room.

The girl's parents are cooperating with authorities, he said.

Hundreds of people, including officers from 15 law enforcement agencies, searched for Jenise, going door to door at Steele Creek Mobile Home Park on the west side of Puget Sound, across from Seattle.

They also pulled surveillance video from nearby businesses and checked in with sex offenders in the county.

After the search began, state child welfare workers removed two other children, an 8-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl, from the home.

Jenise Wright's father, James Wright, was charged more than a decade ago with molesting two girls, ages 8 and 15, court records show.

He eventually pleaded guilty in Whatcom County Superior Court in December 2001 to a misdemeanor assault charge related to the older girl. It was not immediately clear why the molestation charges were dropped. Prosecutors there did not return calls.

A judge in Whatcom County Superior Court sentenced Wright to a year in jail but suspended the entire jail term on the condition that he follow certain conditions, including paying fees.

Wilson has said that authorities were aware of the past charge against the father, but that officers were focused on finding the girl.

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