The neighbour of a nine-year-old girl who went missing on Sunday told police he had raped and murdered her before dumping her body in the Caribbean Sea.
Liz María Sánchez was last seen Sunday morning walking into an alley in the eastern Santo Domingo neighborhood of Ensanche Isabelita in the Dominican Republic.
Liz’s mother Liselot García told Dominican newspaper Hoy on Thursday that her daughter had reportedly told friends she was going to visit the home of Esterlín Francisco Santos, 40, to pick up a cellphone he had promised her as a gift, before she disappeared.
Santos reportedly admitted to police that he was culpable before U-turning when he appeared in court, claiming police had coerced the confession, and pleaded not guilty.
The girl’s parents still defiantly insist she is alive and has been human trafficked.
“To me this smells like human trafficking,” said García, who added she senses her daughter is alive each time she looks at photos of her on her phone.
Santos was arrested for the murder and reportedly told police officers he had raped the girl – then murdered her to stop her from telling her parents.
He said he had then thrown her body into the ocean.
But when he appeared before a judge Thursday afternoon, he recanted his statement and pleaded not guilty – telling the court his confession had been coerced by the police.
Authorities refuted his claim and said they have video and audio of Santos admitting his guilt.
There is also footage of Santos transporting a large bag on his motorbike – which police believe had Liz’s body inside.
Santos will remain in custody for 18 months while prosecutors carry out investigations.
The authorities have not yet recovered Liz’s body and the Civil Defense Department said the remains were not where Santos claimed he had dumped her.
Surveillance footage from the night Liz disappeared, showed Liz walking past two people at 8.58am and then turning the corner near Santos’ home, before disappearing from the camera’s view.
The same security video camera showed Santos pushing his motorcycle from his home, with a large bag stuffed into a milk crate that was attached behind the back seat of the moped at 11.23am. He then returned to the home as 12.33pm without the bag.
The 40-year-old was arrested a short time later and told law enforcement officials that he raped and strangled the girl and dumped the bag containing her body into the Caribbean Sea coast on the 14 kilometer marker on Las Americas Highway.
Santos told authorities that he killed Liz María Sánchez because he was afraid she would tell on him to her parents because he had promised to gift her a cellphone for permitting him to touch her.
A boy, whose identity was not revealed by Antena Latina Channel 6, said he had spoke to Liz on Saturday and that she told him her parents knew that Santos had sexually assaulted her in the past and that she would be going to his house to pick up the mobile device.
“I told her, ‘Liz Mari, do not go,”‘ the boy said.
García and her husband Emmanuel Sánchez acknowledged to Antena Latina Channel 7 being friends with Santos and regretted having welcomed the suspect into their home for meals.
“I saw him going to work with the boy [Santo’s son] and in my good faith and as a Dominican I finally told him to come to my house so that he and the boy could eat there,” Sánchez said. “That child was skinny and malnourished. Out of pain I opened my house’s doors to him.
“He planned that. He waited for a weekend that I wasn’t here. If I were here, my girl were alive and I would have dismembered that charlatan. The girl had never been there and on that day he tricked her with the cellphone.”