• Kyodo

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The 9-year-old Vietnamese girl from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, whose nude corpse was found Sunday in a field, was a cheerful and friendly child who liked to chat, neighbors said.

The body of Le Thi Nhat Linh was found near a drainage ditch at around 6:45 a.m. by a man who had come to fish in the nearby Tone River, police said.

The police have opened a murder investigation, although they have yet to determine the cause of death.

Taeko Saito, 69, who lived close to the girl’s family in Matsudo, covered her face as she heard the news that Linh’s body had been discovered.

“I can’t believe I can’t see her any more,” she said.

Saito, a volunteer with the local crime patrol team, got acquainted with the third-grader around last summer. When she asked about the vegetables being grown in the family’s garden, Linh cheerfully replied that they were Vietnamese vegetables. After that, Linh would greet Saito whenever she saw her, waving even from a distance, the neighbor said.

Linh liked to wear pink clothes. Saito said that when she told Linh she looked cute in them, the girl told her she bought them in Vietnam and gave her souvenirs from the country, including coffee and candies. The girl also talked about her grandmother there, Saito said.

On March 18, Linh gave Saito some Vietnamese sweets as a return gift for candies that Saito’s husband had given her earlier. When Saito invited her over to her home’s veranda, the girl sang her a song by the popular Japanese idol group AKB48.

On Friday, Linh’s friends at the elementary school told Saito they were worried because she was missing. Saito said when she first heard news the body of an unidentified girl had been found in nearby Abiko on Sunday, she prayed that it wasn’t Linh, as there was no way Linh would have traveled as far as Abiko, which is about 10 km away. Later, when the police announced the deceased was Linh, Saito said her mind went blank.

“I can’t believe that, after coming to Japan, she had to suffer such a fate,” she said.

Linh’s mother had posted a message on her Facebook page Saturday urging her daughter to come home.

“Where are you? Come home. I’m so sad,” she wrote.

Her father meanwhile asked fellow parents in the neighborhood if they had spotted her recently.

Both parents then began to search for the girl themselves.

A 35-year-old neighbor whose daughter attends the same school expressed shock at the discovery.

“I had been worried about her after hearing that she disappeared,” the housewife said. “She was an honest and good kid. She was never shy with strangers. It’s too cruel.”

Another housewife, 59, recalled that Linh used to play with her grandchild, who was also in third grade. “She was a friendly girl,” the woman said.

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