Body of Jenny Caballero found in pond after she disappeared from Rodgers Middle School

7:24 AM, Oct 23, 2012   |    comments
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RIVERVIEW, Florida - The search for a 10-year-old student at Rodgers Middle School in Riverview ended tragically about five hours after she was reported missing by school officials.

UPDATE: Detectives continue investigation

Linda Cobbe, a spokesperson with the Hillsborough County School district, said Jennifer Caballero walked out of the school's gymnasium around 1 p.m. "Jenny," as her family called her, had Down's Syndrome and had very limited verbal skills. When she did speak, she spoke in Spanish.

Cobbe said six aides were watching Jenny and her 19 classmates in the gym as they were taking part in a Physical Education class. There were 140 other students in the gym at the time. For some reason, Jenny slipped out of the gym.

Lorraine Boffo has lived next door to Caballero's family for 20 years. She burst into tears over the news of the girl's death and said, "I mean, this innocent little girl -- who doesn't speak, the only person that she knows is her mom, her dad, and they trusted this school to protect her -- and they just let her walk out of a school?"

The sheriff of Hillsborough County made the announcement right after telling Jenny's parents that she was never coming back home. David Gee got choked up as he said, "They're doing as well as they can."

Sheriff Gee said divers found Jenny's body in a pond behind the school. The pond is about 12 feet deep. It was the second one they searched on school property, and it is just a few hundred yards away from the gym where Jenny was taking the P.E. class.

PHOTO GALLERY: View pictures of the scene here

Sheriff Gee said her family explained that she might be able to get over a four foot fence, which lined the pond where her body was found about 20 feet from the shore line. The pond has no visibility.

Meanwhile, her next-door neighbors say they're devastated they weren't able to get to her first. Lorraine Boffo said, "We know this area, we grew up here, we camped out in these woods."

Boffo said she and her daughter, Heather, and their entire neighborhood were on standby to help. Heather Boffo said, "We were ready to go. We had our four wheelers loaded up. We had horses ready. We had people willing to walk. Cops kept telling us we could not go out there."

The sheriff's office said they were following protocol and didn't want to compromise the investigation, neighbors said. Larry McKinnon, spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, says they did call on the community for help.

McKinnon says they put out an automated phone call in a 9 mile radius and asked for people to call the sheriff's office with tips.

Meanwhile, Boffo said Jenny was fascinated by water and her family said she would often hide at the sight of strangers. At one time, her mother helped investigators by making announcements over the school's intercom system, and then later in the wooded area on a bullhorn.

Some thought Jenny could have hid in the school, or even in a car or school bus. Students and deputies spent hours searching the school, buses, and cars parked in front of the building.

Lorraine said while fighting back tears, "And to have this end up happening, it's just not right."

Neighbors say the family's church congregation is now helping them cope with the loss. Meanwhile, grief counselors will be at the school on Tuesday to help students, teachers, and staff. Divers will also be back to search for clues in and around the pond where Jenny was found.

The Hillsborough County school system is helping in the investigation in hopes nothing like this ever happens again. Jenny had only been at the school for six weeks.

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