By PAUL FOY and WHITNEY PHILLIPSAssociated Press
WEST JORDAN, Utah (AP) - A 6-year-old girl found dead in a canal near her home was sexually assaulted, and authorities are now searching for a suspect, police said Wednesday.
Police in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan said the girl was reported missing by her mother early Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, police ruled Sierra Newbold's death a homicide and said an autopsy determined she had been sexually assaulted.
"At this time no suspects have been identified and we do not have any persons of interest," Police Chief Doug Diamond said Wednesday.
He said that while residents in the area shouldn't panic, "there's obviously a predator out there."
"Our highest priority now is to identify, arrest, and successfully prosecute the person or persons responsible for this crime," Diamond said. "I share in the concern of our residents for the ongoing safety and security of our children."
The chief said he has increased police patrols in the area and is asking parents to take precautions to protect their children.
"If during the course of this investigation an imminent threat becomes known, we will share that information with our residents immediately," he said.
Diamond said the girl's parents have been cooperating in the investigation.
Reed Newbold, the girl's grandfather, said her mother found her missing from her bedroom early Tuesday.
"We don't have any idea" how the girl disappeared or whether she was taken from the bedroom, Reed Newbold told The Associated Press. "It's a complete mystery."
The parents "are devastated by this," he said. No working telephone number could be found for the parents, and authorities had cordoned off the neighborhood with police tape and patrol cars, where pink and purple ribbons hung on trees and mailboxes.
Officers found Sierra's body in the canal about a block from her home, just 30 minutes after her mother "discovered she was not there and called us," police Sgt. Drew Sanders said.
Sanders declined to comment on any possible motive in the case. Investigators also are withholding a precise chain of events leading to the girl's disappearance.
"We haven't come to any conclusion," Sanders said. He said police have "tons of leads" and "it's paramount we find out who did this."
Police have said there were no signs of a break-in at the family's home, and they declined to release any more details about the case.
Foy reported from Salt Lake City.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.