This surveillance image shows Zhang Zixin and the two tenants who took her away. (Photo: pinganchunan)
The couple suspected in the disappearance of a 9-year-old girl whose body was found over the weekend were longtime swindlers and transients who had run out of money and decided they no longer wanted to live, according to Zhejiang provincial police, who issued a statement late on Sunday.
"A preliminary investigation found the pair had, for some time, considered the idea of committing suicide, and had the motive and intention of seeking death along with the girl," a spokesman said.
The body of the girl, Zhang Zixin, was found on Saturday in the sea off Xiangshan county, Zhejiang province, 30 kilometers from where she had last been seen alive. An autopsy found she drowned, and there were no obvious injuries on her body. Police said they ruled out accidental drowning.
Zixin had last been seen with the couple in surveillance camera footage on July 7 near Songlanshan beach in Xiangshan. Police said the girl had been seen being carried on the man's back.
The couple, 43-year-old Liang and 45-year-old Xie, are believed to have committed suicide on July 8 at Dongqian Lake in Ningbo, 64 km from Xiangshan. Their bodies were found at the bottom of the lake with their clothes tied together, police said.
The discovery ended a weeklong search that grew to include 500 officers after she was taken by the Guangdong couple, who had rented a room from the girl's grandparents in Chun'an, Zhejiang, and persuaded them on July 4 to let her leave with them to be a flower girl at a wedding in Shanghai, police said.
The suspects were from Huazhou in Guangdong province but had not lived there for years, police said. They had lived together since 2005 and had been cheating and borrowing money from friends and relatives for the past two years to pay for their travels, police said.
They had lived in Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Maoming and Dongguan in Guangdong, and had traveled to 48 cities around the country since the end of last year, police said.
Despite popular speculation, police said they had found no indication that the couple were under the influence of a cult.
The girl's body was recovered after it was spotted by a 55-year-old fisherman who gave his name as Zhou and whose boat was loaded with 16 tourists on a fishing trip on Saturday morning.
"We departed from Shipu port at 10:20 am and found a body floating facedown about an hour later on our journey back," Zhou said. "It was dressed in light yellow clothing."
He said he had heard about the missing girl, but did not connect the body with her at first. Zhou called police, who recovered the body.
In late June, the couple had rented the room from Zixin's grandparents. The girl was living with her grandparents while her parents, who were separated, were working in other cities.
The couple had promised to have the girl back home on July 6.
The girl's father, Zhang Jun, who was working in Tianjin, did not know about the arrangement and contacted the couple. But the family lost contact with the couple on July 7 and the father called police the next day.
Late on Saturday, the girl's father visited the Xiangshan funeral parlor, where the body was kept, to identify her and make funeral arrangements. The girl's mother, who had learned of her daughter's disappearance as she was divorcing the girl's father, was reported to be traveling to Chun'an on Sunday.
The girl's death has stirred a public outcry for the need for more attention for "left-behind children".
"In Zhang's case, both the grandparents and the girl belong to disadvantaged groups who are vulnerable to risks and tricksters," wrote a netizen named haoqixin2015 on Sina Weibo.
By the end of August, China had 6.97 million children left at rural homes by their parents, who were working in cities to support their families, Xinhua News Agency reported.
MA ZHENHUAN in Hangzhou
Screenshot of the statement by Zixin's father, which was actually posted by an editor of Baidu. [Photo from web]
Baidu editor sacked after posting about dead girl without father's permission
An employee of Baidu, China's search engine giant, was fired on Saturday for posting information online in the name of the father of a dead girl without his permission.
On Saturday afternoon, police said they would conduct tests to identify a body found in Xiangshan county, Ningbo, Zhejiang province, believed to be that of Zhang Zixin, a 9-year-old girl who went missing after being taken from her home on July 4 by a couple from Guangdong who committed suicide on July 8.
Before the test results were disclosed, a statement was posted on the Baidu account of Zixin's father, Zhang Jun, saying: "I was just told Zixin has left this world and gone to heaven. We can't be father and daughter anymore in this lifetime, but I hope she can be my daughter in the next life."
The post quickly aroused public attention, with some netizens expressing doubts about whether the father had issued such a statement at that moment and whether the account was registered by Zhang.
Some media later quoted the girl's uncle as saying the post was not written by Zixin's father, who was on his way to Ningbo, where the body was found.
In response to the doubts, Baidu said at around 7 pm on Saturday that the account was authorized by Zhang on July 10 to release information to help find Zixin, and the company was contacting the father to learn more details about the post.
The county's public security bureau officially identified the body as Zixin's at about 9:30 pm.
Baidu later issued another statement, saying one of its editors had contacted Zhang after the body was found, but the editor posted the information on Saturday afternoon without the father's permission.
The earlier information on the account, before the post on Saturday afternoon, was released by editors with Zhang's permission, the statement said.
"The editor's behavior seriously disobeyed our rules and harmed the girl's family and users," the company said in the statement, apologizing to the public. "We have removed the post and fired the editor, and we'll rectify our management."