For seven long years, the lurid details of little Iriana DeJesus' murder has haunted her family and the detectives burdened with catching her killer.
Iriana, a sweet-faced, ponytailed girl of just 5, was found partially decomposed in a ramshackle Hunting Park apartment on the morning of Aug. 3, 2000.
She had been raped and strangled and left in a corner facing a wall, her tiny body partially covered by a green trash bag.
The hunt for the monster responsible for Iriana's murder started off with some promise, as investigators quickly zeroed in on a quiet boxcar drifter who arrived into town mysteriously and went only by the name "Carlos."
He worked odd jobs in and around Hunting Park for a short while, and was spotted by a neighbor walking with Iriana on July 29, 2005, the night she disappeared. "Carlos" soon vanished as well.
But yesterday, police officials announced that Iriana's killer finally has a name and face. "Carlos," they said, is really Alexis Flores, 24, an illegal alien who was booted out of the U.S. two years ago.
Homicide Capt. Michael Costello said Flores was arrested in Arizona in 2004 on charges of forgery. Under state law, Arizona law-enforcement officials were required to take a sample of Flores' DNA because he had committed a felony.
Flores' DNA was entered into a database, and it matched genetic material taken from the scene of Iriana's grisly murder, Costello said. A warrant has been issued for his arrest on charges of murder, sexual assault and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
The diminutive Flores - he's just 5-foot-6 and weighs 115 pounds - was deported to Honduras, his native country, in 2005. His whereabouts are unknown.
"While his last-known location is Honduras, it has been two years," Costello noted.
"We can't rule out the possibility that he may have returned to this country. Specifically, he may have returned to this area."
Flores arrived in Philadelphia seven years ago accidentally, having hopped on a train he thought was bound for Chicago.
He shuffled and panhandled around Center City until meeting Jorge Contreras, a Hunting Park store owner who offered him some handyman work for a few days.
It's still unclear how Flores came to know the affectionate little girl known as "Nena," who was last seen alive playing in front of her home on Fairhill Street near Luzerne and later walking with Flores.
The frantic neighborhood-wide search for Iriana ended after several days when Contreras smelled a foul odor and noticed fluids leaking from a second-floor apartment in a building he owned on 6th Street near Pike.
He broke apart the ceiling, expecting to find a small dead animal. Instead, Contreras found Iriana, lying next to a rug and some linoleum.
Police said last night that Flores was likely living in or working on the second-floor apartment.
Iriana's slaying gained national attention in 2000, even garnering a segment on "America's Most Wanted." At the time, the Citizen's Crime Commission of Delaware Valley and the Daily News posted an $8,000 reward for information leading to her killer's capture.
Police and FBI officials noted that they still have a long journey ahead of them, and are prepared to chase Flores around the world until he's brought to justice.
But the fact that they finally know who they're chasing after was of some comfort to long-suffering investigators.
"There's a sense of relief that before I go, before I retire, this case will be brought to some closure," said Homicide Detective Joseph Bamberski, who has worked on the case from the start.
"It's been a long time coming," he said of yesterday's announcement. "This is the one case that always bothered me."
It was unclear last night how Iriana's family took the news of her alleged murderer's identification.
But the child's mother, Lisa DeJesus, spoke to a Channel 6 (WPVI-TV) reporter before the police announced the hunt for Flores and said authorities had told her they had a new lead.
"It causes joy," DeJesus said. "I am thankful because I got that call." *
Staff writer Simone Weichselbaum contributed to this report.