At a news conference yesterday, county Police Chief Thomas P. Gordon said residents had seen Brenda and some playmates strolling through Knollwood about 8 p.m. At 10 p.m., her parents, Charles and Dorothy Coxe, reported her missing, Gordon said.
Aided by a helicopter, a K-9 crew and residents, police discovered the child's body about 3 a.m. yesterday, about 120 feet below Balfour Avenue, near the Coxes' Denham Avenue home, Gordon said.
Gordon said the state Medical Examiner's Office had not determined the cause of death. He would not discuss the exact nature of her injuries, except to say that "it would appear she was badly beaten."
When asked whether a Knollwood resident was under suspicion, Gordon said, ''It's a little too early to focus on one suspect."
For most of the day, police blocked off the neighborhood's only access road, Alcott Avenue, allowing only residents to enter.
During the afternoon, residents milled about on porches and sidewalks near the crime scene, watching police activities.
"She was a real sweet little girl," said Judy Cooper of nearby Colby Street.
Another Colby Street resident, Debby Garrett, said that she had been the Coxes' next-door neighbor before moving and that her three children had been close friends with Brenda.
"She was very bright, very smart, very mature. A real pretty little thing," Garrett said. She described the family as "very nice people."
Having such a crime occur in her neighborhood made her fear for her children's safety and had left her feeling, she said, "not so good - I've got
"Could it happen again?" is what Carrie Shreves of Claymont said she was asking herself. Her parents live three doors from the Coxes, and her daughter Christina, 6, was one of Brenda's playmates, she said.
Rita Harding said the killing made it clear that "people better start watching their kids."