(CBS/AP) WEST JORDAN, Utah - 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.
Police Chief Doug Diamond says 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," Doug 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.
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, Newbold told The Associated Press. "It's a complete mystery."
The parents "are devastated by this," he said.
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.
Police have said there were no signs of a break-in at the family's home.