Michelle Norris was seven years old when she was murdered. Her body was found in a wooded area in Central Falls, Rhode Island, more than 20 years ago, and the person responsible for her death has yet to be brought to justice.
On the afternoon of May 26, 1988, Michelle, a first-grade student at Capt. G. Harold Hunt Elementary School, decided to go outside and play with her brothers and cousins.
Before she headed out the door, she asked her mother, Julia Tager-Norris, if she wanted Tylenol. At the time, Julia was suffering from a kidney infection and was resting in bed, according to the Boston Globe.
Julia said, “Thank you, but no.”
Michelle said goodbye to her mother and told her she loved her before she scurried out of the house. She went to a park behind her elementary school on Kendall Street and was never seen again.
Authorities questioned the children that were playing at the park with Michelle, but none of them saw or heard anything suspicious.
Julia told NBC News that her “mother used to say that it was like the ground just swallowed her up. She wouldn’t just go with a stranger without a fight. So I think it was someone she had to know who took her.”
Two days later, on May 28, 1988, Michelle was found dead. A volunteer search crew discovered her body atop a debris-covered hill in a wooded area, less than a half-mile from where she was last seen.
She was naked, and her neatly folded clothing (a pink T-shirt and purple shorts) was found next to her body.
Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Kristin Sweeney performed an autopsy, which revealed that Michelle had been beaten and sexually assaulted before her face was forced into the soil, causing her to suffocate to death.
Dr. Sweeney stated that Michelle’s death occurred on the day she went missing.
The autopsy also showed that she had cuts and bruises on her body that were most likely caused by Michelle trying to fight off her assailant, the Providence Journal reported.
Detective Jeffrey Araujo claimed that the soil she inhaled didn’t match the soil where her body was found. It was an indication that Michelle was murdered somewhere else before the killer dumped her body at that location.
Julia told Dateline, “Who could do that to such a defenseless soul? No child deserves what happened to my little girl.”
“And now, whoever did this is just out there, taking no responsibility. It’s horrible; how could there be nothing? It was daylight; someone saw something, and we just needed to identify them.”
The Central Falls Police Department questioned several people, but it didn’t lead them any closer to finding the person who killed Michelle.
Julia stated that she believes her daughter “went with someone she absolutely trusted” because she would have never just wandered off.
A former police chief told the media that he believes a local resident killed Michelle, but there has been no evidence to arrest that individual.
In 2019, veteran Pawtucket police Detective Susan Cormier, who is head of the Pawtucket police cold case unit, featured Michelle’s murder case in a set of playing cards that are distributed to prisoners in Rhode Island.
The playing card program commenced in 2005 in Florida.
Authorities hope that inmates will read about the case on the card and possibly come forward with information that could lead to an arrest and conviction.
Anyone with information regarding the unsolved murder of Michelle Norris is encouraged to contact the Rhode Island State Police at (401) 444-1046.