Missing girl’s death ruled a homicide

SEATTLE — An autopsy has confirmed a body found in the woods near where a Washington girl went missing was that of 6-year-old Jenise Wright, authorities said Friday.

The coroner also ruled the death a homicide, said Earl Smith, incident commander for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office. No exact cause of death was immediately released.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Scott Wilson said earlier Friday that the wooded area where an FBI team found the body contained thick brush and likely was muddy. He said the person responsible for the girl’s disappearance likely would have been covered in mud.

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 her body was found Thursday in woods near the trailer park.

Authorities are 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 has 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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