Two hunters stumbled upon the body Saturday morning: a girl, perhaps 9 to 13 years old, suspended above the ground in her clothing, which was snagged on an 8-foot-tall chain link fence along an interstate highway entrance ramp in western Howard County.

"It was strange looking," said Joe Kidwell, 27, a sheet metal worker who lives in Germantown, and who was combing the woods for deer, rabbit and pheasant along with his friend Paul Powell. The hunt was interrupted when the two men approached the fence near Md. Rte. 32 and I-70 in the West Friendship area 18 miles west of Baltimore.

"I noticed somebody against the fence," Kidwell said. "It was right along the interstate. At first I thought it was a hunter. Then I got close enough. You could tell she wasn't breathing. The body was stiff."

The hunters called the police, and, with no appetite left for tramping the woods, "started drinking some Bud after that," Kidwell said.

The girl, who police said was black and 4 feet 5 inches tall, was wearing blue tennis shoes, designer jeans, a pink terrycloth pullover shirt and a knit sweater. The left cuff of the pullover and the sweater had snagged on the fence, suspending the body over the ground. "Her feet could almost touch the ground, that was what was strange," Kidwell said.

Howard County police found a sheet and a brown blanket at her feet, but nothing else -- no money, no jewelry, no identification, no sign of violence. After three days investigating they still are confounded. They say they do not know who the girl is, how she got there, or even how she died.

"Put yourself in our shoes," said Cpl. Randy Roby, "wouldn't you think it was a mystery?"

County police have called the death suspicious and have been investigating the case as if it were a homicide. The girl apparently died sometime Friday night or Saturday morning.

A preliminary autopsy report completed Sunday was inconclusive, according to Roby. Examiners were unable to identify her through dental records. The girl may have strangled, but further studies will be needed to determine the cause and time of death, according to the medical examiner's office. There was no evidence of sexual assault.

Police showed pictures of the dead girl to principals at elementary and middle schools in Howard, Baltimore and Carroll counties. Yesterday they expanded their search to include schools, foster homes and juvenile agencies in the Washington area. They also notified police departments in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and brought in an artist to make sketches of the girl for television stations and newspapers.

"The main thing is we're trying to get this girl identified," Roby said. "We think there's a parent out there who should be coming forth."

Police have speculated that the black-haired, brown-eyed, 63-pound girl might have been a runaway coming from outside the area who got snagged on the fence on her way off the interstate. Her body was suspended on the woods side of the entrance ramp, but there were no cuts or scratches that might have resulted if she had slipped climbing over the fence.