Is Terapon Adhahn a serial child killer?
That’s a question investigators across the region are considering after the Parkland man told Tacoma police where to find the body of 12-year-old Zina Linnik.
Local police detectives and agents from the FBI are searching for links between Adhahn and other cases of missing or dead children.
“It’s something we’re looking into,” FBI agent David Gomez said during a news conference Friday at Tacoma police headquarters.
Local and federal law enforcement agents found the Tacoma girl’s body Thursday evening in a rural area near Silver Lake in East Pierce County.
An autopsy Friday found she died of homicidal violence, police spokesman Mark Fulghum said. Further details about the manner of her death were not released.
Zina went missing from an alley behind her house in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood the evening of July 4. Her father heard a scream coming from the alley before seeing a gray van pull away.
Using a partial license plate number provided by Zina’s father, a police detective traced the van to Adhahn, who was picked up for an immigration violation Sunday while investigators searched his house and the gray Chevrolet van he was known to drive.
Investigators found girls undergarments inside his home, according to a search warrant return filed in Pierce County Superior Court.
The convicted sex offender initially declined to cooperate with police.
But Thursday, he passed word through an attorney about where investigators could find the girl’s body, Police Chief Don Ramsdell said Friday.
Evidence technicians spent much of Thursday evening and Friday morning gathering clues at the scene.
Ramsdell declined to say what, if anything, they found.
Pierce County deputy prosecutor Ed Murphy said his office plans to charge Adhahn, 42, in Zina’s kidnapping and death next week. What charges he’ll face remained to be determined, Murphy said.
“There’s a lot of stuff we have to go through,” he said. “He’s in custody, so we have the luxury of some time.”
Adhahn continued to be held at a federal immigration facility on Tacoma’s Tideflats late Friday. He’s provided little information aside from where to find Zina, Ramsdell said.
“He has yet to provide a full and complete statement,” the chief said.
Michael Kawamura, Pierce County’s chief public defender, said he’s spoken with Adhahn at least once since the man was taken into custody. Kawamura declined to comment further about the case.
Ramsdell said his detectives are looking at Adhahn as a possible suspect “in other local crimes,” including unsolved cases involving attacks on children. They planned to obtain a search warrant that would allow them to collect a DNA sample from Adhahn, the chief said.
“We’re looking at cold cases from the past,” Ramsdell said. “We are going to look at all the cases we have.”
The chief specifically cited the case of Adre’anna Jackson.
The 10-year-old Tillicum girl disappeared in December 2005 on her way to school. Her remains were found months later in an overgrown lot not far from her home. Medical examiners have been unable to determine how she died.
Lakewood police Lt. Dave Guttu, whose department is the lead agency investigating the death of Adre’anna, declined to comment on Friday’s developments.
“We don’t want to compromise Tacoma’s investigation,” he said.
The FBI is expanding its investigation into Adhahn as well, Gomez said. The agency investigates all child kidnappings, and Adhahn likely traveled across the country while he was in the Army, said the assistant special agent in charge of the bureau’s Seattle office.
FBI profilers will compare “particulars in this case, once they’re known, to the particulars of other cases nationwide,” Gomez said.
He did not mention any specific cases.
Other local agencies also are watching developments.
“Our guys will be waiting for Tacoma,” said Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer. “We’ll be awaiting the results of their investigation to see if it matches with any of ours.”
At least 18 South Sound children have disappeared during the past 25 years. Many are considered runaways, but some are thought to be the victims of foul play.
• Misty Copsey, a 14-year-old Puyallup girl who went missing in 1992.
• Lenoria Jones, 3, who disappeared from a Tacoma Target store in 1995.
• And Teekah Lewis, who was 2 when she vanished from a Tacoma bowling alley in 1999.
In addition, the deaths of two Tacoma children from the 1980s remain unsolved: Michella Welch, 12, whose body was found at Puget Park on March 26, 1986; and Jennifer Bastian, 13, who was found dead Aug. 28, 1986, in Point Defiance Park.
“Obviously, some of those cases are very old,” Ramsdell said.
During Friday’s news conference, the chief praised his detectives, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for their quick work in identifying a suspect in Zina’s death.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Ramsdell also explained why it took nearly 12 hours for his department to issue an Amber Alert after Zina was reported missing.
Ramsdell said his officers had a “very hot lead” they were pursuing immediately after receiving the 9:45 p.m. report. They tracked down a man thought to be a suspect and took him to police headquarters for a polygraph examination and an interview, the chief said.
Several hours had passed by the time they cleared the man as a suspect, Ramsdell said. Then there were some discrepancies about descriptions of the van that had to be resolved, Ramsdell said.
The chief said the department would evaluate how it handled the case to see what it did right and what it did wrong.