The grisly discovery of a child's six fingers in a trash bin at a Honolulu housing complex has left residents bewildered.
"We're still a little bit in shock, wondering what the back story is," said Kevin Carney, Hawaii vice president for EAH Housing, the San Rafael, California-based company that manages the affordable rentals.
Residents of the 389-unit Kukui Gardens complex near downtown Honolulu and Chinatown are abuzz about the find, which came to light when police asked the public for help this week, Carney said.
"No one can really imagine this happening in this neighbourhood, in their backyard," he said. "Everyone's anxious for more details."
For Gina Rose Vendegna, the horror of finding six tiny fingers in the trash bin while rummaging for bottles and cans to recycle didn't sink in until a day after she turned the plastic bag over to Honolulu police.
"Then I broke down thinking about the child," the mother of five told KHON-TV.
The fingers, which Vendegna found last month, are likely from a girl who is 2½ to 4 years old, Honolulu police said.
Dr Robert Mann, forensic academy director at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, told Hawaii News Now that he can't tell the child's gender from the fingers, which are dry and leathery.
The lab at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam examined the fingers for Honolulu police and classified them as fragmentary remains. The lab is the only accredited Skeletal Identification Laboratory in the United States and is known for identifying remains of prisoners of war or soldiers missing in action. The Honolulu Police Department often seeks help from the lab with investigations.
"It's not a complete hand. It's not a complete body. And so the less you have of an individual to try to identify or work with, the harder our job is," Mann said. "I think for any laboratory, for any police jurisdiction, any medical examiner, this is not the run-of-the-mill typical kind of thing we would ever expect to find."
The housing complex features 20 buildings on about 10 acres dotted with palm trees. While it's in an urban neighborhood, there is little crime, Carney said.
There have been no reports of missing children, he said. Police have interviewed area residents and checked missing-person reports but have no leads.
Police have made public pleas for clues, but as of today (NZ time), only a couple of calls were received and none provided solid information, CrimeStoppers Sergeant Kim Buffett said.
"The hard part is you can't determine the age of it, whether it's new or old," Buffett said. "It can be a child from back then. We really don't know."
Vendegna, who found the fingers, is not a suspect in the case, police said.
She recalled combing through the trash looking for bottles and cans to recycle when she came across what at first she thought was dried ginger root.
Later at her home near the complex, she took the bag out of her purse.
"I was drinking soda, and I knew for a fact those were fingers when I seen the fingernails," she said. "They were preserved in a Ziploc bag."
The woman said there was no foul odor. People she showed them to told her they were monkey fingers. She turned the bag over to police, and laboratory testing confirmed that the fingers belong to a child.
"Normally when you find body parts, you find the rest of the body," Buffett said. "It's rare to find fingers. Why just the fingers and why the way it was found?"