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Florida girl found buried alive in landfill

Police: 17-year-old suspect confessed, will be charged as adult

Milagro Cunningham, 17, will be charged as an adult and could face life in prison.
Crime, Law and Justice

(CNN) -- Police found an 8-year-old Florida girl buried alive with minor injuries in an abandoned landfill Sunday morning, hours after she was reported abducted, according to officials in Lake Worth.

Authorities detained a suspect, identified as 17-year-old Milagro Cunningham, whom they said the girl identified as her attacker.

Searchers found the girl inside a yellow recycling bin, which was inside a 30-foot dumpster.

"There was a yellow recycling bin, and the lid was flipped open," said Lake Worth police Sgt. Mike Hall. "And inside the dumpster was a pile of rocks, boulders. And you could see a hand in there."

Lake Worth Police Department spokesman Dan Boland said the girl "was left for dead."

He said the girl was taken to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, just north of Lake Worth. He did not know her condition.

The suspect will be charged as an adult, said Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County state attorney's office.

Boland the charges will be attempted murder, sexual battery on a child under 12 and false imprisonment of a victim under 13. He could face life in prison if convicted on all counts.

Boland said Cunningham confessed to all three charges.

The suspect will make his first court appearance Monday and is being held until then at the Juvenile Assessment Center in West Palm Beach, Boland said.

Boland said the suspect lived with the girl's godmother, whom she was visiting, just a few blocks from the landfill.

The girl had been staying at the home only a short time. The relationship between the suspect and the godmother was not immediately known.

Cunningham called in a false abduction report before 4 a.m. ET, describing the girl's alleged abductors and the car they supposedly drove, Lake Worth Police Chief William Smith said.

"That is bogus," Smith said. "It did not occur."

Because investigators saw inconsistencies in Cunningham's story, they 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 Hall, who said the dumpster was on his and his partner's search grid. They found the girl about 10:30 a.m.

Boland said that initially the girl didn't respond when officers called out to her, but they then saw a finger move.

"As far as I'm concerned, Sergeant Hall's a hero," he added, noting that Hall is a 15-year police veteran.

"Everybody got goose bumps. It was just unbelievable," Boland said. "Everybody was so happy she was found alive. It was a miracle."

He said the girl, who is from Delray Beach, south of Lake Worth, weighs about 80 pounds.

Smith said it was clear from where the girl was found -- and how -- that her attacker did not expect her to survive.

Closed more than a decade ago, the landfill is surrounded by a fence and has a locked gate, but Boland said there are numerous holes in it.

"We believe it was a sexual assault and possible attempted murder," FBI Special Agent Mike Driscoll said. "He intended to leave her there, and she wasn't going to get out of the situation."

"She was in a position that you wouldn't think anyone could survive," he said.

Lake Worth is about 70 miles north of Miami.

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

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