April 17, 2005 in Nation/World

Body found in fish pond likely that of missing girl

Mitch Stacy Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Kelly May Lunde, the mother of 13-year-old Sarah Michelle Lunde, talks with Pat Farley, of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, shortly before news conference Saturday in Ruskin, Fla. Shortly after this photo was taken, it was announced that a body, later identified as the missing girl, was found partially submerged in an abandoned fish pond about a half mile from the girl’s home.
(Full-size photo)

RUSKIN, Fla. – Authorities said Saturday they were “almost positive” they have found the body of a missing 13-year-old girl after recovering a corpse from a pond that appeared to match her description down to her green arm cast.

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said the body was found in an abandoned fish camp about a half mile from Sarah Michelle Lunde’s home. Gee said the cast was apparent when the body was found; Sarah had a bright green half cast from a left wrist injury.

About 200 volunteers had joined detectives Saturday in a search for the teenager, some hugging and crying as helicopters buzzed overhead.

“We’re almost positive it’s her. Everything matches the description,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

Authorities said they hoped to determine a positive identification and cause of death during an autopsy.

“The family is very distraught. It’s a tough time for them,” Gee said.

Sarah was last seen on April 9, shortly after she returned home from a church trip and around the time a registered sex offender unexpectedly paid a visit to her family’s home. The teen was reported missing two days later when her mother learned she wasn’t at a friend’s home.

Gee has said that David Onstott, who once dated the girl’s mother, has drawn investigators’ attention, but he has not been named a suspect.

Onstott, 36, was being held after he was arrested Tuesday for allegedly threatening a man with a screwdriver at a bar. He spent 5 1/2 years in prison after being convicted in 1995 of sexual battery with physical force.

Gee said he believes the body had been in the pond since shortly after Sarah disappeared. He said searchers would keep looking for articles of clothing Sarah might have been wearing at the time of her disappearance.

Gee said investigators would also test beer bottles found by volunteers on Saturday for DNA evidence after Sarah’s brothers told detectives that Onstott took a half-empty bottle of Budweiser or Bud Light during his pre-dawn visit to the home.

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