I wanted to do a tribute page to Cecilia. I didn't know Cecilia, or her parents. I only know what I see and hear on the news. This is a horrendous thing that has happened; I hope they hang the bastard who murdered this precious little girl. Better yet, I like my brother's idea better, tie him to the back of a vehicle, naked, and drag him for miles and miles and miles. When he is caught, and he will be caught, I will post his picture on my site so the world can see the filth close up.
TORONTO (CP) - A mysterious abduction that baffled police and terrified parents in Canada's biggest city came to a grim end Sunday when police confirmed that remains found earlier this weekend were those of missing nine-year-old Cecilia Zhang.
A hiker in Mississauga, about 50 kilometres west of her Toronto home, stumbled upon human remains in a heavily wooded area near a church parking lot on Saturday, police said. By Sunday - just two days before Cecilia would have celebrated her 10th birthday - forensic experts confirmed the body was hers.
"We hope she did not suffer and hope she knows how much of a treasure she was to us in her all-too-short life," Cecilia's parents said in a statement released through their lawyer late Sunday.
"We are devastated and in anguish to know that our angel daughter Cecilia has departed this life. We commend her soul to God in heaven where we known she now resides."
Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino spent about 10 minutes with the Zhang family on Sunday, bringing them a bouquet of flowers from a neighbour.
"I can just tell you that they are just devastated as a family - anybody would - losing an innocent, precious daughter or child. I grieve for them," he said after leaving the house.
"We don't intend to give up until we in fact bring these people to justice."
The dire news of her death came just five months after the girl was snatched from her parents' home in northeast Toronto.
"I really cannot say what kind of monster they are to do such a thing to Cecilia," a visibly shaken Jack Jia, the Zhang family friend who has frequently spoken on behalf of the girl's distraught parents since her Oct. 20 abduction, said outside the family's red-brick home.
"She's such a nice, nice, nice girl. She had never intended to hurt anybody."
Flowers were piling up Sunday evening on the doorstep of the home as news began to spread in her neighbourhood that the gifted Grade 4 student had been found dead.
Rabeye Ahmed, taking a stroll around the neighbourhood with her granddaughter, said once they'd heard a body had been found, they were expecting the worst.
"We're very very sad," said Ahmed, her eyes filling with tears.
Ahmed said she'd been holding her granddaughter's hand much tighter in the months since Cecilia's abduction.
"People are scared," she said. "They're scared to be walking around like this at night."
Investigators, who have been publicly insisting for months that they believed Cecilia was still alive, released few details about the case Sunday, simply saying that they were in the midst of a homicide investigation.
"I'm not in a position to release any information whatsoever of an evidentiary nature," said acting Insp. Rick De Facendis at an afternoon news conference held near the spot where the remains were found.
De Facendis said the area was not heavily travelled, and the hiker stumbled on the child's remains purely by chance.
Police said the remains were identified using forensic techniques.
They wouldn't comment on how long Cecilia may have been lying in the brush.
Cecilia's parents, Raymond Zhang and Sherry Xu, had been planning a birthday party with friends, neighbours and teachers to honour their missing daughter when the girl's remains were discovered.
A neighbour and friend who would only identify himself as Mr. Yuan said he kept a picture of Cecilia in his car in the hopes she would return home safe and sound.
"We never lose the hope, but now it is broken, the hope," Yuan said before dissolving into tears.
"Cecilia is like my daughter."
As the night wore on, tiny flickers of light began to shine from the walkway of the Zhang's dark home as people lit candles in a show of support.
"I thought she would show up, I am sad she didn't," said Robin Wong, 15, who travelled from Markham with her mother, to light a candle at the home.
"I figured it would be like the Elizabeth Smart case and that maybe she would come back."
Smart, a 15-year-old Utah teen, was found safe and unharmed nearly eight months after she was abducted from her bedroom.
As they congregated on the street outside the Zhang home, one set of parents said they knew too well the heartbreak of hearing a missing child was dead.
"We have condemned this murder, Cecilia is innocent, we prayed for her many times," said Elooranayagam Anandavel, whose daughter Sharmini was abducted from a Toronto mall in 1999 and found dead five months later.
"I know their feelings and they are having a very hard time."
Cecilia was discovered missing last fall when her mother went into her bedroom to wake her for school.
A broken screen window at the rear of the top floor of the two-storey home suggested an abduction.
Shortly after her mother called police, an Amber Alert was issued, flashing news of the child's disappearance to millions of motorists on area highways.
Police then began an intense search of the northeast Toronto neighbourhood where Cecilia lived with her parents and her 75-year-old grandfather.
At first, Cecilia's parents were so distraught that they would only issue statements through police pleading for the safe return of their daughter.
They made their first public appearance Oct. 24 in a heart-wrenching news conference.
Since then, Cecilia's parents, backed by members of the Chinese community, started a website and were involved in numerous other efforts to keep Cecilia's abduction in the public eye.
Volunteers distributed thousands of flyers and posters bearing Cecilia's picture. They were distributed throughout Toronto subways and buses, on taxis, and in shopping centres and other public areas.
The city rallied around the family - Cecilia's school made thousands of paper cranes in the girl's honour.
"I feel the pain of this tragedy both as a parent and as a resident of Toronto," said Mayor David Miller.
"The hearts of everyone in this city are with Cecilia's family tonight."
Police soon ruled out that the abduction was the random act of a predator, and said that the possibility Cecilia was kidnapped for profit was one of the "themes" they were exploring.
They later spent two days in the Brampton area, northwest of Toronto, canvassing patrons of a Tim Hortons doughnut shop and a rural general store, where calls were made from two pay phones to Cecilia's home before she was reported missing.
Her body was found almost directly south of that area, about a 20 minute drive away.
When part of reward money put up by the community was retracted, her parents offered their home in exchange for their daughter's safe return.
The case garnered international attention, landing Toronto police on the felon-hunting show America's Most Wanted.
Chinese authorities were also consulted.
Quotes after the discovery of the body of nine-year-old Cecilia Zhang.
"There are simply no words that can convey how deeply sorry I am for the loss of Cecilia. I feel the pain of this tragedy both as a parent and as a resident of Toronto. The hearts of everyone in this city are with Cecilia's family tonight," - Toronto Mayor David Miller.-
"It is very hard to believe there are people like that who could do something like this to a nine-year-old girl." - neighbour Angela Walters.-
"I would like to share the grief and sadness with the parents, that's why we came here. We put candles in front of the door just to show our feelings." - Aizhong Li, member of North Chinese Community of Canada.
Text of statement from Cecilia Zhang's parents
The text of a statement released by Raymond Zhang and Sherry Xu upon the death of their daughter Cecilia. It was read outside the family's home by lawyer Jeffry House.
We are devastated and in anguish to know that our angel daughter Cecilia has departed this life.
We commend her soul to God in heaven where we know she now resides.
She was the best of daughters and brought us joy throughout her short life.
We have missed her every hour, every moment since she was cruelly taken from us.
We hope she did not suffer and hope she knows how much of a treasure she was to us in her all-too-short life.
We thank everyone who has prayed for her, and for us, and everyone who has given our family a kind thought in those hard months since Cecilia disappeared.
We hope that those who took Cecilia from us will soon be captured and be judged as they deserve.
We thank Toronto police for their unceasing efforts on Cecilia's behalf and we ask all of you to treasure your children every single day. Thank you.RITA TRICHUR AND STEPHANIE LEVITZ
© The Canadian Press, 2003
A young student from Shanghai pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder in the death of Cecilia Zhang, who was kidnapped from a bedroom in her Toronto home in October 2003.
Min Chen, then 21, was arrested at his Scarborough home in July 2004 and charged with killing Cecilia after her disappearance created headlines across the country for months.
The girl's remains were found near a Mississauga river on March 27, 2004, three days before she would have turned 10.
On Tuesday morning, an agreed statement of facts was read out in a Brampton courtroom, revealing for the first time that Chen smothered Cecilia to death.
It also revealed the motive for the crime: Chen desperately needed money.
He had planned to ask for ransom and then pay $25,000 to arrange a marriage of convenience so that he could stay in Canada and continue his studies.
At first he thought he could kidnap the girl, demand a ransom and return her to her parents the same day.
However, when he approached Cecilia in her house the night of Oct. 19, 2003, he feared that she was about to scream for help.
So he took a purple towel she had with her, covered her face and head with it, and pressed his hand hard against her face while he carried her out of the house to a waiting car.
By the time he put her in the car's trunk, she was no longer struggling. When he checked on her later, she wasn't breathing. He eventually left her body in the Mississauga ravine where it was found.
Student faces mandatory life sentence
Chen was originally charged with first-degree murder. His trial on that charge was expected to begin Tuesday, but instead he was arraigned on the lesser charge.
The judge is required to impose a life sentence, which means Chen will not be eligible for parole for between 10 and 20 years, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Upon his eventual release, he would likely be deported back to China.
Cecilia's parents were not in court for the guilty plea. The family submitted victim impact statements in both written and video form, however.
Raymond Zhang cried as he said his only daughter would never have a chance to fulfil all her dreams.
Sherry Xu was also emotional as she talked about the 161 days and nights she spent hoping for good news before her daughter's body was found and the 720 days and nights that have elapsed since the ordeal began.
Min Chen came to Canada from China on a student visa in 2001. He has admitted that he killed Cecilia by putting his hand over her mouth until she stopped breathing. (CBC)
Parents mortgaged home to have ransom ready
Zhang and Xu had issued public pleas for their child's safe return in the weeks following her disappearance.
The girl's parents also mortgaged their house in order to have money ready in case of a ransom demand.
But the ransom call the police expected never came. Nor did the break in the case that Toronto's Chinese community longed for, as it raised tens of thousands of dollars to be offered as a reward.
Information about Cecilia was sent around the world and featured on America's Most Wanted in case she had somehow been spirited out of the country.
Killer knew former boarder at Zhang home
Chen came to Canada from China on a student visa in 2001.
At the time of his arrest, police said he knew a woman who had boarded at the Zhang home between September 2002 and March 2003.
She was at first suspected of being involved in the case, but an investigation later cleared her. She was expected to be called as a witness when Chen went to trial.
Chen had visited the Zhang home at least four times and had met Cecilia, police said.
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