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No leads in case of nude teenager thrown from vehicle

Photo: The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is asking for help from the public in solving the murder of Edwinta Hereford. Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/March 25, 2010

Next to a poster-sized image of Edwinta Hereford -- the 19-year old whose nude body was found alongside a Los Angeles-area freeway earlier this month -- sheriff's homicide detectives gave an account Tuesday of her final days in the hopes of generating leads in a killing they said has left them puzzled.

Hereford's body was found about 5:40 a.m. May 16 on the shoulder of the eastbound 105 Freeway at Garfield Avenue in Paramount. A passerby "saw small feet" and pulled over to see if it was a child, according to Det. Phil Martinez, who is handling the investigation.

At first, detectives did not even know her name. She was found unclothed without any identification, other than a distinctive tattoo on her back that read: "Kenaya Faith Morgan."

Martinez said evidence suggested that her body was discovered within an hour of being thrown from a vehicle, but they had little else to go on.

Tips from the public and fingerprints led them to her identity, but the circumstances leading up to her killing remain unknown.

Hereford suffered massive blunt-force trauma, said Lt. Don Slawson, but had no sign of stab or gunshot wounds. The autopsy has been completed by the coroner's office, he said, but investigators are still waiting for additional lab tests to determine the exact cause of her death.

Among the questions unanswered: Was she killed before she was thrown from the vehicle? Was she unclothed when dumped? Where did she go in the hours after she was last seen by a store attendant at Snappy Liquor near Imperial Highway and Normandie Avenue in the Westmont area of unincorporated South Los Angeles?

Slawson said Hereford walked into the store alone about 11 a.m. on May 15 and tried to purchase some "female products." She did not have enough money, he said, and the store clerk reported that she left empty-handed.

At the time of her death, Hereford was living in Gardena with a male friend. She had been staying with him for a few days, Slawson said, going back and forth between his home and her mother's place in San Bernardino County.

Investigators said they do not believe the man Hereford was living with had anything to do with her killing.

After giving reporters gathered outside the Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide bureau in Commerce an account of Hereford's injuries, detectives asked her family to join them.

Monett Hereford, Edwinta's mother, described her daughter, the third of four children, as an outgoing "go-getter" who had dreams of becoming an attorney.

She said they last spoke on Mother's Day, six days before her daughter was killed. Asked what they talked about, Monett Hereford, who wept throughout the news conference, paused and said: "I don't want to talk about it."

Her daughter's tattoo, she said, was in honor of a stillborn daughter she gave birth to last year.

Although her daughter had an arrest for petty theft two years ago, Monett Hereford said that she had led a sheltered life and grew up in the church. Edwinta was taking a break from San Bernardino Valley College where she had been enrolled in general education and paralegal courses, her mother said.

"She was a wonderful daughter, sister, granddaughter. She had family members that loved her dearly," Monett Hereford said. "Whomever was involved, who knows what happened, please turn them in now. If they're capable of doing this to my daughter, they can do it to anyone."

Anyone with information about the death of Edwinta Hereford or the circumstances leading up to her death is asked to contact Det. Phil Martinez at the Sheriff's Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. Detectives said they believe Hereford was wearing blue skinny jeans and a white halter top with a red pattern down the side shortly before her death.

"Someone was out there, who knew what she was doing, who saw her from May 10 to the 15th. We want to talk to those people," Slawson said.

-- Sarah Ardalani in Commerce

Photo: The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is asking for help from the public in solving the murder of Edwinta Hereford. Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/March 25, 2010

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