GARFIELD PARK — Chicago Police on Wednesday vowed to catch whomever dismembered a young child and dumped its body in the Garfield Park lagoon — and said investigators are blowing through typical work limits to get the job done.
"The full weight of the city of Chicago is behind this investigation," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "We are going to find who is responsible.
"I don't have the words to describe how reprehensible ... this is. The fact that somebody could do this to a child is, frankly, unimaginable."
Investigators plan to go door to door around the Garfield Park neighborhood in hopes of getting new clues into who the toddler was and how the child died. They've also enlisted the help of a sketch artist to create a composite image of what the child might have looked like, officers said at a Wednesday news conference.
But the investigation has taken a toll, physically and emotionally, on officers. The lagoon must be searched "by touch and feel" because the water is stagnant and "full of debris," meaning searchers can't see through it and sonar equipment is "useless," Deputy Chief Steve Georges said.
"We're all fathers, brothers, sisters; we all have children, nieces, nephews," Georges said. "Just mentally that takes a toll on our personnel."
And police are refusing to stop searching, Georges said, wearing sealed rubber suits to search the lagoon by hand and staying in longer than usual. While divers typically stay in 30-45 minutes, some have stayed in the lagoon for up to three hours.
Authorities have recovered the toddler's head, hands and feet but are still searching for the torso. Chief John Escalante said the body parts will be tested for DNA to help identify the child, a top priority for police. Once the child and his or her parents are identified, police will be able to investigate why the toddler was dismembered and left at the lagoon, Escalante said.
Detectives are manning tip phones "around the clock," Escalante said.
"We're going to take every phone call and follow up on every lead," he said.
An autopsy revealed the child was African-American or mixed race, and between 1½ and 4 years old. Their "best estimate" is 2 or 3 years old.
The body was dismembered after the child died, but authorities still don't know how the child died or if the toddler was a boy or a girl.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon from the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office and the Chicago Police Department, authorities said "all the body parts appear to be from a child of approximately the same age."
The statement said the victim's hair was short, curly and black, eyes were brown and the earlobes were not pierced "suggesting the child may be male (but female gender cannot be ruled out at present.)"
DNA samples and dental evidence is being examined as well as finger and footprints, authorities said. The body parts were described as "badly decomposed."
City crews began the somber process of draining half of the Garfield Park lagoon as part of the investigation, although Tuesday's heavy rains slowed the process. Police hope to find the rest of the child's body and "any other evidence" that will help with the investigation, Escalante said.
"This is not a newborn," Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said. "This is a child that's been around. This is someone that should be missed. Do you know someone who had a kid last week and now they don't have one? Ask questions. Make sure that child is alive.
"I would just hope that people in the community or across the city would know that if a child is not around — from a relative, a family member or a neighbor — make that call to 911."
Chicago Police said Tuesday morning that city crews will drain half of the manmade lagoon — the west side section where a child's body parts began to be found Saturday. Crews will dam off the east side — at Central Park Avenue — and then pump the west side's water into sewers on Hamlin Boulevard.
During that process, Hamlin will be closed from Lake Street to Washington Boulevard.
"Once the draining work and investigation is complete, the temporary dam will be removed to allow the water to flow to the west side of the lagoon," police said in a statement. "Future rain water will refill the lagoon to its regular level."
Anyone who has any information on missing children fitting the description to call detectives at 312-744-8261.
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