Missing 9-year-old girl, whose disappearance gripped China, found dead

Chinese rescuers search for the 9-year-old missing girl Zhang Zixin along the coastline in Xiangshan county, Ningbo city, east China's Zhejiang province, 11 July.

Beijing (CNN)A 9-year-old Chinese girl's mysterious weeklong disappearance came to a tragic end Sunday after authorities confirmed her lifeless body had been found in the East China Sea.

In a statement released Sunday, Zhejiang Provincial Police confirmed that missing girl Zhang Zixin had drowned in waters off Xiangshan county. They said that her body showed no signs of violence but ruled out her death as an accident.
Millions of people across China had been gripped by the case, closely following the developments as search crews had spent days trying to find the bespectacled second-grader with a long pony tail in waters and caves along the shoreline.
    The girl's government services identity card was found in a pavilion near the coast last Wednesday night.
    Zhang was last seen just over a week ago, when a witness saw her traveling with a middle-aged couple on a road not far from the search area around 8 p.m. on July 7.
    The couple had been renting rooms at her family's house in rural Chun'an county, some 150 kilometers (90 miles) away, according to police.
    A photograph provided by Xiangshan police of the missing 9-year-old girl Zhang Zixin.
    When the two adults were seen again on surveillance cameras two hours later, the girl wasn't with them. Police said the man and woman, both hailing from the southern province of Guangdong, drowned themselves in a nearby lake later that night.
    In their latest statement, police said the 43-year-old man, surnamed Liang, and the 45-year-old woman, surnamed Xie, had been swindling money from family and friends for years, and ran out of cash after traveling extensively across China.
    Police said the couple had been increasingly discarding their personal belongings in recent months and an analysis of their social media posts pointed to a desire to commit suicide together with Zhang as their symbolic goddaughter.
    In an interview with the mass-circulating Dushi Kuaibao newspaper Wednesday, a Zhejiang-based state-run publication, the girl's father Zhang Jun said the couple had tricked his elderly farmer parents, who were Zixin's primary caretakers, into letting them take the girl away while he was working in a northern Chinese city hundreds of miles away.
    In the interview, Zhang Jun said the nightmare began when Liang and Xie told him on July 3 that they wanted to make Zixin a flower girl at a wedding in Shanghai. Despite his objections, Zhang said the couple took the girl with them the next morning.
    For three days, Zhang Jun said he was able to stay in touch with Liang via WeChat, China's most popular social media platform. Liang promised to bring the girl home by the end of July 6 and sent frequent updates, according to the father, who said everything seemed "normal" initially.