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Mexican missing girl asphyxiated, mother suspected

Vehicles pass a billboard of Paulette Gebara Farah with the words in Spanish 'Disappeared, help us find her' in Mexico City, Wednesday, March 31, 2010. The body of Farah, a disabled 4-year-old girl, was found Wednesday in her own bedroom, 10 days after her wealthy parents reported her missing and stirred nationwide sympathy with a public campaign to find her. Vehicles pass a billboard of Paulette Gebara Farah with the words in Spanish "Disappeared, help us find her" in Mexico City, Wednesday, March 31, 2010. The body of Farah, a disabled 4-year-old girl, was found Wednesday in her own bedroom, 10 days after her wealthy parents reported her missing and stirred nationwide sympathy with a public campaign to find her. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
By Gloria Perez
Associated Press Writer / April 1, 2010

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TOLUCA, Mexico—A disabled 4-year-old girl whose disappearance became the talk of the capital region was found dead in her own bedroom more than a week later. Prosecutors said Wednesday the girl had been asphyxiated and her mother is a suspect.

The shocking discovery of the lifeless Paulette Gebara Farah under the mattress of her bed at her wealthy parents' apartment late Tuesday left prosecutors struggling to explain how multiple searches could have been conducted without the body being found.

Investigators weren't even looking for the girl in the apartment on the outskirts of Mexico City when they found her body, but were searching for suitcases or other family possessions that might have been missing or moved.

"There was a presence of odors," Mexico State Attorney General Alberto Bazbaz said.

Still, Bazbaz also said he had talked with the mother in the bedroom where the body was found but had not detected anything. His comment suggested the grisly possibility that the mother, a lawyer, had spoken with authorities and journalists while sitting on the same bed under which they body was found.

Since the girl was reported missing March 22 by her parents, the family and supporters had scattered images of the girl wearing a princess dress on billboards and flyers across Mexico City, riveting people's attention in a region where occasional reports of child stealing have created dread among many parents.

The girl had difficulties walking and talking due to an unspecified disability.

Bazbaz said prosecutors initially assumed they were dealing with a case in which the girl had somehow been taken from the luxury apartment building. But he said they became suspicious of the mother, Lisette Farah, after she was overheard telling her other daughter not to talk because the family might be blamed for the disappearance.

Lisette Farah, her husband, Mauricio Gebara, and two nannies had been put under a form of house arrest for questioning Monday, after authorities said they detected contradictions in their statements to police.

Authorities said Monday that the four were not suspects. They were being held at a hotel in Toluca and were not available to comment on the prosecutors' statement Wednesday.

It was unclear whether the spot where the body was found wrapped in sheets was where the girl died, or whether the body had been moved, authorities said.

While the results of an autopsy are pending, Bazbaz said the death was caused by "asphyxiation by suffocation," but no other signs of violence were immediately found.

"This is an investigation of a homicide case," he said.

The family lives in an upscale suburb of Mexico City located in Mexico State, which borders the capital.

In previous television interviews, the mother said she had put Paulette to bed in her bedroom the night of March 21. The next morning, one of her nannies reported Paulette wasn't in her room, and investigators found no signs of forced entry to the apartment.

Farah pleaded for her daughter's return at a news conference held outside the apartment building Sunday night.

"Please, I'm desperate. Half of my heart has been taken," she said.

(This version CORRECTS that parents are under house arrest at a hotel rather than a government facility.)