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McCarthy vows to solve Garfield Park lagoon case

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has signed a blank check and handed it to detectives to find the person who dismembered the body of a toddler and disposed of it in the Garfield Park lagoon.

McCarthy’s instructions: “Do whatever it takes, whatever you need human-resource-wise, equipment-wise, technology-wise . . . just get it done,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Wednesday afternoon at a news conference just east of the lagoon.

Police divers located a child’s feet, hands and head in the lagoon Saturday evening shortly after a resident saw a foot floating in the lagoon and notified authorities.

“However this baby died, somebody felt compelled to cut him or her up — brutally, I might add,” said Guglielmi. He said the child’s body was dismembered after its death.

Forensic testing, including DNA analysis, is being conducted, said Guglielmi. Results will be cross-referenced with a DNA database in hopes of finding a match that could lead to family member.

Investigators — working with the Cook County medical examiner’s office — estimate the child was two to four years old. It’s gender is unknown. There are no telltale signs of gender, such as pierced ears, Guglielmi said.

“We do believe the body was not there too long,” Chief of Detectives John Escalante said Wednesday. “Maybe a week to two weeks, but we don’t think it was that much longer.”

Officers and community volunteers blanketed the area around the park with flyers Wednesday asking for tips.

“If you’re aware of a small child that you have not seen in your neighborhood for the past couple of weeks, or a family that suddenly packed up and moved” — notify police, Escalante said.

“Luckily we’re the second-largest police department in the country — 13,000 police officers. We can dispatch hundreds at a time,” Guglielmi said. “There’s over 100 police officers, detectives, divers working this case 24 hours a day,”

The brown area at the bottom of reeds along the Garfield Park lagoon show a slight drop in the water level. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

The brown area at the bottom of reeds along the Garfield Park lagoon show a slight drop in the water level. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

A sketch artist from the Cook County Sheriff’s office on Wednesday was working to complete a composite drawing of what the child may have looked. It could be released as early as Wednesday night, Ecalante said.

Investigators — working with the city’s water department — began draining the lagoon Tuesday afternoon.

The waterline had receded about seven feet by Wednesday afternoon, according to Bill Bresnahan, managing deputy commissioner of the city’s water department.

“The water is stagnant and it’s also full of debris: bottles, rocks, branches, anything you can possibly think of,” said Deputy Chief Steve Georgas, who heads up the Marine Unit.

“There’s no way to see under the water, even with our most sophisticated sonar equipment. It becomes useless in this situation. You actually have to get in and do grid searches and literally, on your hands and knees, touch and feel and pick up every single item that’s under there to see what it is. We’ve spent three tireless days doing that.”

Divers — each wearing dry suits up their necks — are working in 24-hour shifts. Many of them have young children and nieces and nephews of their own and are taking the assignment personally.

“At the officers’ request, they wouldn’t come out of the water,” Georgas said. “They stayed with it sometimes up to three hours in that heat working in those conditions.”

McCarthy has said counseling would be made available for each diver.

“There’s no words that can describe what’s going on out there and what these officers are dealing with in order to bring resolution to this case,” Georgas said.

“Once we’ve completed the search of the lagoon we’ll be able to then start putting together the pieces of this puzzle — hopefully, number one, identify this child, identify the parents and then of course put together the reasons as to how and why this child was dismembered and left here in the lagoon,” said Escalante, who urged the public to come forward with tips.

Guglielmi confirmed several bags were found in the lagoon and collected as evidence but would not elaborate.

“I don’t want to get into specifics about what was in the bags or what wasn’t in the bags,” he said, adding that certain information would be kept secret to help investigators investigators verify the authenticity of any specific tips that may come in.

Guglielmi said Chicago Police detectives don’t think the remains belong to King Walker, a 2-year-old boy who disappeared from Gary, Ind., with his aunt on July 25. Gary detectives had inquired about that possibility.

Large hoses are carrying water to a storm drain as it is pumped out of the lagoon in Garfield Park. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Large hoses are carrying water to a storm drain as it is pumped out of the lagoon in Garfield Park. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times