ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A missing Orange County teenager’s family is coping with Friday’s discovery of a female’s body in a Polk County search zone.
Family and friends reacted to the news by holding a prayer vigil in honor 16-year-old Alexandria Chery.
Chery was reported missing from her Hawthorne Groves apartment on Monday and her mother’s boyfriend, Sanal Saint Simon, has been arrested in connection to her disappearance.
Investigators said he lied about his whereabouts the day she disappeared, telling them he was at work when he was really driving around in a black Pontiac.
Belongings were missing from Chery’s room, her bed was stripped of sheets and blood was found on a stuffed animal, according to authorities.
They said they also found bleach-soaked men’s underpants underneath her bed.
Chery’s mother is in seclusion with relatives, who are supporting her during the search.
Chery’s uncle, Ray Joseph, said he appreciates all the support the community is offering.
He said the discovery by investigators of a woman’s body, not far from where his niece's cellphone pinged, has devastated her mother.
“I tried to talk with her when she heard the news. She couldn’t talk to anyone, she was crying,” Joseph said.
He said the family does not want to give up hope that the much-loved 16-year-old is alive and well, but it’s becoming more difficult with each passing day.
“I’ve been devastated emotionally. My family’s heart is broken. The fact that they found the body and it’s a female,” he said.
The vigil for the missing teen drew a huge crowd of family, friends and people who don’t even know her.
“This is one of those things that brings people together. You don’t have to be family as you can see,” Joseph said.
Joseph said he just took Chery to the mall with his daughters last Friday
He said he’s more like a father to her than an uncle.
Friday afternoon, after investigators removed the body from the wooded area off state Road 532, they held a press conference asking the public for any information.
“We want to know if anyone saw this four-door Pontiac around this parkway,” said Jane Watrel with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
While the grim investigation pressed on, many people are still pulling for the teenager’s return, especially her 10-year-old cousin.
“(I) pray for her and hope she will come home safely,” said Rishiah Joseph.
One of Alex’s friends had a panic attack during the vigil and had to be treated by paramedics.
On Saturday, the Medical Examiner’s Office may release more information on the identity of the body that was found.