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Mother, Grandfather Held in Connection to 4-year-old Rose Pizem Disappearance
By RACHEL LEBOWITZJERUSALEM, Sept. 11, 2008
A story that has horrified the people of Israel for weeks finally moved toward some closure today.
In the Yakron River, a diver discovered what police are assuming to be 4-year-old Rose Pizem's body stuffed inside a suitcase. Her parents are being held in connection with the child's disappearance.
Paris-born Rose traveled with her parents, Benjamin Pizem and Marie-Charlotte Renault, to Israel in 2004, so that Pizem could meet Ronny Ron, his Israeli father.
The family vacation went awry when Rose's mother announced that she had fallen in love with Ron and would remain in Israel. Neither of the couples ever married.
Pizem then returned to Paris with Rose but had difficulty raising his daughter and periodically gave her to child welfare authorities, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
When Renault and Ron learned that Rose had been hospitalized because of alleged paternal neglect and abuse, the mother and grandfather, who now had two of their own children, began a custody battle for Rose.
The mother-grandfather couple brought Rose to Israel in December when the mother-grandfather couple won custody.
But when they realized Rose's difficult speech and behavioral problems, they, too, couldn't cope and handed the child over to Ron's mother, Vivien Yaakov, who watched over her great-granddaughter every day.
Yaakov also had difficulties coping with Rose and reportedly demanded that her son find an alternative solution to her daily babysitting.
After another harsh fight with his mother in May of this year, Ron, 45, grabbed Rose and her suitcase and stormed out, according to Haaretz.
Yaakov never saw Rose again, and Renault claims to have never asked where her daughter was. Only when Yaakov wrote to the National Council for the Child in early August did the police learn of Rose's disappearance.
Although police diver Tzafrir Sade had been searching for the body for about a week, it was another diver who found the suitcase, which was full of bones and body parts.
Israeli National Police say the contents resemble that of a little girl.
"I was in a meeting when they called me from the river," Sade told ABCNews.com. "Of course, it's the second I take a break from searching that they find it."
The other diver found the suitcase about half a mile from the location where Ron is alleged to have stuffed Rose into a suitcase, before dumping it into the Yakron River in Tel Aviv, according to Sade. Ron had confessed to throwing his granddaughter into a body of water but provided multiple locations. He later retracted the confession.
"When they told me that they had something I got in the car as fast as I could and drove to the river," Sade said. "I'm very happy right now, and I don't care if it's me or someone else that found it. ... I'm just glad that we found it."
Sade, the lead diver for Haifa's Gal Yam diving company, explained that he dove solo, or sometimes with only one other because of the river's severe conditions.
But, today, he said his discomfort was worth it.
"I am getting more kisses today than I got in the past two years," he said. "Everyone was so happy and it was a big relief for everyone because we were all so unsure of what was going to be."
Still, he acknowledged that he found it difficult to balance any sense of celebration at a successful find with the disturbing reality of the situation.
"On the one hand, it's happy to end the search and finish it, but it's a sad finding," he said. "It's something that's not easy for a diver to find."
Israeli news channels interrupted regularly scheduled programs at about 11 a.m. today to broadcast live from the river where the body was found.
"In Israel, a story like this happens once every few months or every few years," Israel's Channel 1 foreign correspondent Itamar Meiri told ABCNews.com.
"It's a big story, a major story. The people in Israel are really shocked. A grandfather, who is also the stepfather, killed his little girl and then lied about it, and the mother is also involved. ... It will be on the top stories today and tomorrow and the day after."
After a few weeks during which hundreds of police officers from different units, sniffer dogs and undercover units searched for the body in Netanya, and a week of divers searched the Yakron River, the investigation is still ongoing, according to Israel's National Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.
He said that after police conducted initial examinations, an autopsy is now unde rway to confirm the identity of the body.
"Inside the suitcase were leftovers from a small body, bones, etc., that we believe are, in fact, Rose's," Rosenfeld told ABCNews.com.
Sade said that the divers plan to return to the Yakron River Friday to continue looking for additional items in the same area where they found the suitcase.
Before today's finding, Rose's mother had given police conflicting information that led them to believe the child's body could be at Tel Baruch beach, which is not where the body was ultimately found.
Rosenfeld said that police plotted to bring Renault to the beach Wednesday to try to evoke some emotion from her and possibly learn more information concerning Rose's whereabouts.
But they learned nothing new.
"We thought maybe she would have a breakdown during the investigation because she would be close to the site where her daughter was murdered," Rosenfeld said. "But, we didn't succeed there.
"She just walked around and she spoke really openly and she didn't crack up. She seemed to be pleased. She was cold in a way ... cold in her personality. I think she just liked walking around and getting out of jail and having some fresh air."
Rosenfeld said that Renault and Ron are both being kept in extended custody -- Ron for 10 days and Renault for 15 -- even though police have no evidence that Rose was murdered.
In his first public statement on Tuesday, Ron retracted his earlier confession and said that he did not kill his granddaughter, Haaretz reported.
"It's all lies and falsehood, it was all under duress." Ron shouted at the start of a court hearing on how long to detain the couple, according to Haaretz. "I didn't kill her, the confession was extracted from me under duress. The last time I saw her she was alive."
Haaretz reported that during the hearing, police presented new findings to explain the girl's disappearance. This evidence supported suspicions that Renault was involved in the death.
While police continue to collect further evidence, Sade told ABCNews.com that the Gal Yam divers "found the unexpected."
"I didn't expect to find anything," he said. "For me, if what we're looking for is there, or if it's not there is not the issue. My job is to do the search. To find what we did is just a big bonus."
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