U.S. officials have expressed their sympathies to the family of a murdered girl in Kosovo. Meanwhile, the American soldier accused of killing the ethnic Albanian child has been transferred to a military prison in Germany.
Staff Sergeant Frank Ronghi was moved to Mannheim in southern Germany on Monday. The 35-year-old was charged Sunday with murder and indecent acts with a child. He was detained last week after U.S. soldiers found the body of 11-year-old Merite Shabiu about two miles outside the town of Vitina in eastern Kosovo, where Ronghi is stationed.
A spokesman at Camp Bondsteel, the main base for U.S. forces in NATO's Kosovo Peacekeeping Force (KFOR), said he was not aware exactly when Ronghi was taken to Germany, but confirmed that the move had happened.
"He's already been transferred to Mannheim," the spokesman said.
Also on Monday, officers released the text of a condolence letter sent to the girl's family by Brigadier General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Kosovo.
"We can only imagine the irreparable loss that you have suffered and fully realize there is little we can say to help in this moment of sorrow," Sanchez wrote, expressing sympathy on behalf of the U.S. military.
"I did not know your daughter, but as a father, I feel a deep sense of loss and can imagine your pain," the father of four added in the letter hand-delivered to the family Sunday.
"The Department of the Army will spare no effort in bringing this matter to justice," he assured.
Larry Rossin, the head of the U.S. government office in Kosovo's capital of Pristina, also expressed deep shock at the murder.
"I want to strongly emphasize that this was an isolated, individual act of violence," Rossin said in a statement.
Officers have not released the girl's exact cause of death, but they have confirmed she was attacked. The charges against Ronghi also allege an indecent act for "sexual gratification or stimulation" took place. Whether the girl was raped remains part of the ongoing investigation, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces said Sunday.
Ronghi's family in Ohio is speaking out in his defense. The soldier's brother said his family was shocked by the charges and believes he is innocent.
"He comes from a well-respected family," Lou Ronghi Jr. said from his parents' home in Niles, where he and his brother grew up. Ronghi said his family learned of the charges against his brother through news reports on Sunday.
"We can't picture how he would be involved in this. We won't believe it until someone can actually show he did it," he added.
The brother said Ronghi, who is divorced, has spent the past 12 years in the Army and served in Desert Storm. "We have yet to be contacted by anybody for him or the military," he said.
"Whatever the outcome," he added, "our hearts go out to that little girl."
The girl's murder has prompted shock and some comlaints in the town of Vitina about the general behavior of U.S. troops in Kosovo. But so far, no large-scale demonstrations of anti-American sentiment have been reported. KFOR troops are generally given a warm reception by Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians, who see them as a guarantee against a return of hostile Serb forces.