Ansonia police give update on homicide, missing girl investigation
ANSONIA — Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies joined forces Tuesday to investigate a homicide and to locate a missing 1-year-old girl.
Investigators are looking at the woman’s death as a homicide but would not officially release her name, pending positive identification by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Wednesday morning.
Police said the toddler, Vanessa Morales, should have been in the home but was not found in the residence.
Police Chief Andrew Cota III said earlier Tuesday that the woman found dead was Vanessa’s mother and that “she did not die of natural causes.”
Ansonia police got a request at 12:56 p.m. Monday for a welfare check at 61/2 Myrtle Ave. for a woman who failed to show up to work or call in sick, police said during a 4 p.m. news conference.
An officer went to the home and tried to make contact, but no one answered the door.
Police said at 7:30 p.m. Monday, a second request for a welfare check at the same address was called in and officers responded to the home. During a quick check of the exterior of the home, officers decided to force entry to get inside.
Police did not say or immediately respond to request for comment about whether there were any indications of forced entry at the home prior to the police arrival.
Once inside the home, officers found the woman’s body.
Officers immediately secured the home as a crime scene and brought in members of the Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crimes.
Ansonia police said Derby police and state police, along with the FBI, are aiding in the investigation.
“This is a two-part investigation — the first part is a homicide investigation, the second is a missing child investigation,” said Lt. Patrick Lynch. “Our main focus at the moment is finding Vanessa Morales and making sure she’s safe.”
Detectives contacted family members on both sides of Vanessa’s family, including her father.
Lynch said Vanessa’s father has been cooperating with the investigation.
The father, Lynch said, occasionally stayed at the home but did not live there. He said Vanessa and her mother lived at the home.
“She’s still missing,” he said Tuesday evening of Vanessa. “Detectives from Ansonia and Derby police are actively trying to locate Vanessa.”
Lynch said the investigators have not identified any suspects in the case at this time.
“We are following several leads and tracking those down as we go ... checking everyone out,” Lynch said.
A Silver Alert was issued early Tuesday morning. Lynch said once police have exhausted all possible leads, they will consider issuing an Amber Alert.
The alert listed Vanessa as an “endangered missing child.” She is described as a white girl with brown eyes and brown hair. She stands roughly 2 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 17 pounds.
“We’re at the point where we are following every lead we have,” Lynch said.
Mayor David Cassetti said he got a call from Cota early Tuesday morning.
“When I heard this little girl was missing I told him to use all the resources he needs — state police, the feds — everything. I want this baby found,” the mayor said. “That is paramount. That has to be the focus.”
Police blocked off a section of Myrtle Avenue between West Street and Judson Place Tuesday.
Police spent part of the morning interviewing nearby neighbors.
Joe Baldespino, who lives across the street, was one of those questioned. “The lady was quiet,” he said. “I saw the little girl.
“I saw the gentleman two times and once he asked me for work,” added Baldespino, a cook employed by Southern Connecticut State University. “I gave him the website.”
Baldespino said there were several cars near the home on Thanksgiving.
Nicole Pagano, who lives nearby, took a walk to the crime scene with her 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old niece. “We heard there was a Silver Alert for the little girl online and we’re getting updates,” Pagano said. “We walk this area often and never saw anyone there.”
The two girls said they went to the house on Halloween, but no one answered the door.
The residential street is filled with well-kept multifamily homes and is not far from Santini’s pizza and Castle Beverages.
Dave Pantalone, who co-owns Castle, and Sal Haniaf, a former aldermanic candidate, were unaware of the incident when passing by Tuesday.
“This is the best neighborhood in town,” Pantalone said. “Nothing ever happens here.”
“It’s all families,” Haniaf added. “It’s the best street in Ansonia.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Ansonia police at 203-735-1885, on the police department’s Facebook page or through www.tip4111.com. Online editor Jim Shay contributed to this story.