Police Declare Laci Peterson 'Homicide Victim'
'Missing Person' Investigation Ends; Family Offers New $50K For Info


POSTED: 6:36 pm EST March 5, 2003
UPDATED: 7:09 pm EST March 5, 2003

After months of searching, Modesto, Calif., police declared missing schoolteacher Laci Peterson a 'homicide victim' Wednesday, severely damaging hopes that she would be found alive and well.

With Laci's family standing nearby, Detective Doug Ridenour said investigators had reached a point in the case where such a declaration was warranted.

"This case began as a missing person case and we were all hopeful that Laci would return home safely," Ridenour said. "However, we have come to consider that this is now a homicide case."

"It was a logical process," he added. "It been two weeks since her due date and there are other things we can not talk about."

Kim Petersen, a spokeswoman for Laci's family -- the Rochas family -- said it was a difficult time for the family.

"While this is a difficult day for the family, the police department and all of us, it is a necessary step because we do need to find Laci," she said.

Peterson then read a statement from the Rochases.

"Since Laci first disappeared on Dec. 24 our first priority has been to fine her. It has been our priority every day since. Our family desperately needs to know where she is. We realize with every day that passes the possibility of finding her alive diminishes. Our hope is that this $50,000 reward will bring us information that bring us to her."

"Our lives in the past 2 1/2 months have been horrific. It's been a never-ending nightmare...We know someone out there has the information that can end our nightmare. We plead with them to tell us where she is...We will continue our search for her. We will never stop looking for Laci...Until we find Laci, our lives are in turmoil. We feel we can't look on beyond today."

Laci's family also announced a change in the reward being offered in the case. The $500,000 reward would remain in place for her safe return, but a $50,000 reward was being given for any information leading to an arrest in the case.

The Modesto Bee reported on Wednesday that investigators were going to return to the Mendota Canal area -- a region already searched by police and an army of volunteers -- to follow up on a report by a private investigator that he found cement residue near the shoreline.

It's been more than two months since Peterson disappeared without a trace on Christmas Eve day from her Modesto home. Her husband, Scott, has told police he was on a day fishing trip to Berkeley at the time.

However, Scott has yet to be cleared as a suspect in the case, despite months of searching by police.

Nearly two weeks ago, Modesto investigators visited the Peterson's ranch style house for a second time since Laci's disappearance. They spend two days combing the residence and yard for potential clues and carried away 95 items.

It is believed that many of those items would eventually end up at the state crime in lab in nearby Ripon, Calif.

Meanwhile, sources close to the case told KTVU-TV in San Francisco on Monday that Modesto police were 'right on track' for an arrest, adding that authorities have discounted an alleged sighting of Peterson on the day she disappeared.

Those sources said, "it's not a matter of if, but when" an arrest will come.

Rowlands was also told that a reported sighting by neighbor Vivian Mitchell was taken seriously when first reported early in the investigation, but that the report has been ruled out.

Apparently, there were two other pregnant women walking their dogs in the same vicinity that morning and police believe Mitchell saw one of them.

Modesto authorities say they are making steady progress in the case each day.

Capt. Greg Savelli, of the Investigative Services of the Modesto Police Department, told KTVU that his team meets every day to carefully piece together a battle plan.

"We meet every morning and discuss the goals of the case -- and for that day -- and where we are going," Savelli said. "We're confident in the direction of the investigation and we're going to follow all the leads we have."

"That's our plan -- as leads come in, they are developed and we will follow them."

One of those leads was to have Bruce Peterson -- the former Modesto resident who sold Scott Peterson his fishing boat weeks before Laci disappeared -- come in to look at the craft earlier this month.

"It's another piece of the puzzle," Savelli said.

The Modesto investigator also said his team watches the local and national media reports of Laci's disappearance with special interest.

"We are learning a lot of information from watching the media," he said. "In a sense that we want to hear from those shows what other experts feel about what they are hearing. It's important to us to get all opinions (on the case)."

Savelli also said that his department is not too proud to ask for help if they need it.

"There are a lot of dedicated, experienced employees and detectives working on this case," he said. "They are devoting their time tirelessly to solving this...If we feel the need for assistance, we will call in assistance. We've had help from other agencies and the federal government. We want the best people on the job."

"Right now, we have a core of investigators that are very experienced and very detailed. They are doing an outstanding job."