Special Reports

Body of missing Tacoma girl found

Tacoma police and FBI agents found the body of missing 12-year-old Zina Linnik on Thursday night, Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell said.

Investigators located her body in Pierce County after they were given information from a 42-year-old Parkland man whom police have identified as a person of interest in Zina’s July 4 disappearance, Ramsdell said.

That man was being held by federal immigration officials on a charge not connected to Zina’s apparent abduction.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the Linnik family and we will continue to put forth our best efforts to bring the perpetrator of this senseless and horrific crime to justice,” Ramsdell said at a brief and hastily arranged 9:30 p.m. news conference outside Tacoma police headquarters.

In a statement, Ramsdell did not specify where Zina was found, saying only that it was “within Pierce County.”

He did not answer questions from reporters after reading the statement.

Tacoma police detective Chris Taylor fielded some questions, saying that Zina’s family had been notified. He said the girl’s body was discovered at the same time as a meeting was taking place between police and the public at 6 p.m. in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

That’s near where Zina was last since at 9:45 p.m. on July 4 in the alley near her family’s home in the 2500 block of South J Street.

The man who gave police the tip that led to Zina’s body is a convicted sex offender. He’s been charged with failing to register as a sex offender. The man has denied having anything to do with Zina’s disappearance.

The News Tribune is not naming him because he has not been charged with any crime connected with Zina’s disappearance.

The man’s 1990 criminal sex offense conviction for first-degree incest is the basis for his detention and should have led to the man’s deportation, according to a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Court documents state he underwent court-ordered psychological evaluation and was diagnosed with pedophilia as part of the case.

Investigators searched the man’s home Sunday and Monday, seizing items and a gray van. According to search warrant records, they found “girl’s undergarments” during the investigation.

Police found the man after a detective ran a computer search that led to the man’s van. The color, the model and the license plate numbers listed in state vehicle records fit the partial description of a vehicle that Zina’s father told police he saw driving out of the alley July 4. He heard a scream just before he saw the van speed away, police say.

Plates on the seized van had been changed when police first spotted the vehicle. The man said his original plates had been stolen months earlier, and that he couldn’t afford new ones.

The man, who came from Thailand to America in 1977 and later enlisted in the Army, initially cooperated with investigators, but has stopped talking with them.

Investigators had searched Tiger Mountain on Tuesday and Wednesday in east King County, but said they found no trace of Zina.

Earlier Thursday, neighbors and friends met at the Peace Community Center on the Hilltop to exchange information and talk with Tacoma police about the disappearance.

Surprisingly, neighbors Carolyn Nelson and Kim Sheridan said, many people on the Hilltop knew nothing about Zina’s disappearance.

“It’s unbelievable how many people do not know about Zina,” Nelson told about 60 people at the meeting.

A handful of people spoke passionately at the meeting about the person of interest, his immigration status and his right to an attorney.

“How many sex offenders from other countries are molesting our kids?” asked Dwight Steenberg, 50, who lives in the neighborhood.

Paul Sand: 253-597-8872