KEANSBURG, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – The search for a missing 11-year-old Keansburg girl ended in tragedy Thursday.
As CBS2’s Jessica Borg reported, police late Thursday were investigating Abbiegail Smith’s death as a homicide.
Abbiegail’s body was found around 10:45 a.m. Thursday near the site of her disappearance at Hancock and Main Street.
“Unfortunately the case is no longer a missing persons investigation, it’s now a homicide investigation,” Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni told 1010 WINS.
As CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported, a crowd gathered for a vigil for Abbiegail Thursday night – lighting candles, praying and singing songs such as “Amazing Grace” in her memory. Many said they did not know the little girl, but felt compelled to show support for her family.
“In memory of the little girl, for Abbie — in memory of Abbie,” said Sabrina Bellotti.
They were stunned by the news that Abbiegail had been found murdered behind her home,
“It’s scary, it’s frightening and it’s unbelievable that it has happened right here in our backyard,” said Eleanor Bullock.
Abbiegail’s body was found on the grounds of the Hancock Street apartments, where she lived.
“Like I live right upstairs from the little girl and it was right behind my apartment,” a neighbor said.
“It’s well lit, it’s nothing that you would consider to be out in a secluded area,” Gramiccioni told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
Neighbors at the apartment complex were horrified by the girl’s death.
“The family has got to be torn to pieces right now,” said Glen Argujil. “I know I’d be.”
“It’s crazy for her family and friends,” added Noah Inocencio. “I can’t imagine how they feel.”
The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office said the child’s mother may have been the last person to see her alive, around 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Early Thursday police were treating her disappearance as a missing person’s case. And hours into their search, they made the devastating discovery.
“We were hopeful that we would find her, this is the tragic end to a terrible story as it is,” Gramiccioni said. “As you can imagine it’s very difficult for the mother who reported her missing.”
A worker from a vape shop on Main Street, adjacent to the Hancock Street Apartments, said he was closing up late Wednesday around the same time Abbiegail was first reported missing.
“Just a normal night, closed up around 10 o’clock. I took the garbage out at like 9, 9:30; nothing suspicious was going on,” said Sam Lisa.
A resident of the building who did not want to be identified said police began to intensify their search in the early-morning hours.
“About 3:30 is when it got real serious, and they started checking all the apartments; all the vacant ones, and they even woke everybody up several times,” the resident said.
Once Abbiegail’s body was found, investigators began to comb through the building for evidence. At one point, bloodhounds were brought out to search the nearby Henry Hudson Trail.
As to the investigation, Gramiccioni said, “We don’t suspect that immediate family was involved at this point in time.”
But authorities do believe it is possible that Abbiegail knew her killer.
Neighbors described the young girl as active. They said she used to run around the building.
“She keeps to herself. She runs in circles, like she was always jumping. She was always running around the building she would stop, run like four or five times,” Argujil said.
The anonymous neighbor said the building has empty units that have become a haven for squatters.
“I personally haven’t seen him, but I know there was a new random person squatting in the apartments,” the neighbor said.
Keansburg residents wondered how such a thing could have happened.
“It’s scary,” Lisa said. “This is my community. I grew up around here. I never thought that this place could put out something so horrible.”
“You’re scared to be in your own hometown,” said Inocencio. “That’s kind of scary.”
Police believe Abbiegail’s slaying was an isolated incident, but no arrests had been made late Thursday.
The community said the fact that Abbiegail’s murder was isolated brings them little comfort.
“In fear, since we don’t know who did this, and I hope to God that they catch the person who did it,” Bellotti said.
The Monmouth County Medical Examiner’s office will determine how Abbiegail died. Police want anyone with information to come forward.
Anyone with any information about the case is asked to call Keansburg Police at (732) 787-0600.