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Pupils get help in trying to cope with girl's death

Pupils and teachers at Oscar J. Pope Elementary School tried to make Monday as normal as possible while coping with the killing of Kimberly Ann Waters.

Kimberly, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Oscar Pope, was slain Friday morning, her body tossed in a trash bin less than a half-mile from her house.

"We need to talk to the students, but we want to do it in as normal a setting as possible," said Lois Horn, a school psychologist at Oscar Pope.

Polk County sheriff's investigators aren't releasing details of the kidnapping or cause of her death, saying that information could be used to help catch the killer.

Maj. Grady Judd told The Ledger newspaper in Lakeland that such details are used in questioning suspects, because if the details haven't been in the news, they're known only to the killer and investigators.

But detectives had no firm suspects Monday, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sonya Dodds.

In the three days since Kimberly's death, investigators have run down tips from more than 100 callers, and Dodds said the Sheriff's Office is asking that the public continue to call with any information, even anonymously.

"No matter how insignificant it may seem, it may be that one piece of information that may break the case," she said.

Anyone with information was asked to call the Sheriff's Office at 533-0344 in Polk County, or (800) 226-0344 elsewhere. A five-member crisis team was at the school Monday to work with the school's two guidance counselors and two school psychologists to help pupils cope with the crisis.

Teachers said Kimberly was a shy and quiet child, a "sharp kid" not widely known at the school.

Counselors met with all three of the school's fifth-grade classes and with about 25 students on an individual basis, Horn said.

Principal Jay Erwin said he was proud of his pupils' and staff's handling of the difficult circumstances.

"It's very hard to explain these things to children, but hopefully we've done a good job," Erwin said. "It would have been harder if they were at the junior high school level, where they've already formed some very tight bonds.

"But here, they're still kids and it's not the same. But it still affects them, especially the fears about their safety."

Grief and safety were the two big issues counselors were dealing with Monday, Horn said.

"This is an ongoing problem as opposed to a natural death," Horn said. "It's all very traumatic. It was a loss that has to be dealt with and it's all very painful."