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Girl buried alive thanks God for rescue

Officer tells of finding 8-year-old under concrete slabs

An 8-year-old girl was found inside a trash container at a closed landfill.
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Two police officers tell how the found the girl buried under boulders.

Police say the suspect told them the girl was abducted.
Crime, Law and Justice

LAKE WORTH, Florida (CNN) -- An 8-year-old girl who police say was raped and left for dead in a landfill asked for a pastor "so she could thank God" shortly after her rescue from beneath a pile of stones, her godmother said Monday.

Police said the girl also identified her attacker even before she was removed Sunday from a trash bin at the abandoned South Florida landfill.

"She stated that she wanted a pastor to pray with her so she could thank God for saving her life," Lisa Taylor, the godmother, told CNN. "She's 8 years old. Isn't that the most beautiful thing you've ever heard?"

The girl was being treated Monday at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach.

Police say she was raped by a teen staying at Taylor's home and then crammed into a recycling bin and covered with rocks and stones.

"She was left for dead," said Lake Worth Police spokesman Dan Boland.

Taylor said the girl is resting in good condition and able to converse. The girl's body is swollen, and she is on a liquid diet.

"She's swollen everywhere," Taylor said. "I don't know if it was from laying the same way for so many hours or if it was the weight of the stones that he put on her."

Milagro Cunningham, 17, who initially told authorities the girl had been kidnapped, made a first court appearance at a detention hearing Monday.

Assistant state attorney Jeanne Howard said prosecutors will seek to charge him as an adult and that evidence will be presented to a grand jury Thursday.

Cunningham will be charged with attempted murder, sexual battery on a child under 12 and false imprisonment of a victim under 13, Boland said.

The suspect, who is being held at a juvenile detention center, could face life in prison if convicted on all counts.

Boland said Cunningham has confessed to all three charges.

"If I could put my hands around his neck, he would be dead," the girl's mother told The Palm Beach Post. "He left my daughter to die."

Taylor said the ordeal has taken a toll on friends and family, with everyone wondering if they could have done "something different to stop it."

Taylor said that in recent months she had taken Cunningham into her home, only a few blocks from the landfill.

The girl was also staying at Taylor's home Saturday night, and authorities believe Cunningham took the girl after her godmother fell asleep.

"After five months of knowing him and the kind of kid he was, you'd never expect him to do something like this -- ever," Taylor said. "It's changed a lot inside me, as far as trusting myself and trusting other people."

She added: "I feel responsible for the whole thing. I've said that if I hadn't fallen asleep, it wouldn't have happened."

"He taught me something really important -- that people aren't always what they seem," she said.

"There was just no way to read this kid whatsoever."

Cunningham initially told authorities before 4 a.m. ET Sunday the girl had been kidnapped and that he chased after the perpetrator's car.

But authorities said they soon began finding holes in his story and kept him close at hand.

Boland said about 100 law enforcement officers, with help from bloodhounds, began looking for the girl soon after the abduction report.

Among the searchers was Sgt. Mike Hall, who said the Dumpster was on his and his partner's search grid.

Hall spotted the girl about 10:30 a.m. amid the rocks in the recycling bin, which was inside a 30-foot Dumpster.

"I leaned in, flipped the lid open on the recycling bin and saw large concrete slabs," he said. "And in between those concrete slabs, I saw a small foot and a small hand."

He said "hopelessness turned to hope" when a fellow officer saw a finger move.

"Everybody jumped in and started taking the rocks off her," Hall told CNN Monday.

"She was in a lot better condition than we thought she'd be in. She was able to actually name her attacker while she was still in the Dumpster."

Lake Worth Police Chief William Smith called Hall "an excellent officer, the best of the best," crediting him and other law enforcement officers with finding the Delray Beach girl.

"It sure is a miracle," Smith said. "We had some luck and a lot of good police work."

A fence with a locked gate surrounds the landfill, closed more than a decade ago, Boland said. But the fence has holes in it, he said.

CNN's Susan Candiotti and Rich Phillips contributed to this report.

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