The parents of missing teenager Alice Gross have said they are "completely devastated" after a body found in a river was confirmed as that of the schoolgirl. Scotland Yard confirmed that the body recovered from the River Brent is that of the 14-year-old, who went missing on August 28.
Following the gruesome discovery police declared their investigation into her disappearance a murder inquiry. Their prime suspect is convicted killer Arnis Zalkalns, who was spotted following the 14-year-old along a tow path when she was last seen and disappeared on September 3.
Alice's family said in a statement: "We have been left completely devastated by the recent developments and it is difficult to comprehend that our sweet and beautiful daughter was the victim of a terrible crime. Why anyone would want to hurt her is something that we are struggling to come to terms with. Alice was a loving and much loved daughter and sister, a quirky live spark of a girl, beautiful inside and out.
"She was a funny companion, a loyal friend, both passionate and compassionate, and so talented with a bright future ahead of her. She brought so much joy to our family and those who knew her. We still don't know who is responsible for this crime and we ask that people continue to help the police by giving them information that could help bring the perpetrator to justice.
"We would like to thank all those that have supported us in our efforts to find Alice, especially the local community; it is comforting to know that so many people care. This is a personal and private tragedy and one which we want to be allowed to deal with in that manner, rather than fearing any individual or group will use it to further any political agenda. This is a time for grieving and not a time for anger or recriminations.
"We trust that the press will behave responsibly and not publish any material that might jeopardise any future criminal proceedings. We now ask for our privacy to be respected to allow us time to grieve as a family."
Scotland Yard said in a statement: "We can now confirm that sadly the body recovered yesterday from the River Brent is that of 14-year-old Alice Gross. The family has been informed of this development and the investigation continues."
A post-mortem examination began today at Uxbridge Mortuary and is expected to continue tomorrow due to the "complex nature" of the investigation, the force said. Police have come under fire for delays in identifying 41-year-old Latvian builder Zalkalns as a risk, and so far have not been able to apply for a European Arrest Warrant due to lack of evidence.
Metropolitan Police Commander Graham McNulty said that "significant efforts" were made to hide the body, which was found in the River Brent near Alice's family home in Hanwell, west London. But he gave no further explanation as to why it has taken more than a month for any significant progress to be made in the hunt for Alice, despite the force holding the biggest search since the aftermath of the July 7 bombings.
Speaking at Scotland Yard, the senior officer said: "This is now a murder investigation and I need the public's help to find whoever is responsible. Even if you have not yet spoken out it is not too late to tell us what you know."
Brentside High School, where Alice was a pupil, said that she was an "outstanding and talented student who will be sorely missed". The school said: "Our thoughts and sympathy are with Alice's family at this time. Alice was an outstanding and talented student who will be sorely missed from our school community.
"This is a very sad day for our school and we are devastated by this tragic loss. We are doing everything we can to support each other and will continue to do so in the days and weeks ahead. We would like to thank the Metropolitan Police Service for their efforts in finding Alice and hope that the perpetrator of this awful crime is brought to justice very soon.
"If anyone has any information that may be of use to the police's murder inquiry please do come forward. To conclude, may I now ask you to respect the privacy of Alice's family and our school community as we come to terms with this sad news."