The body of an 8-year-old girl who had suffered severe head injuries was found by her mother at the bottom of the basement stairs in her southeast Fairfax County house yesterday afternoon.

The girl, identified by neighbors as Destiny A. Souza, was flown to Fairfax Hospital by helicopter, a police spokesman said. She was officially pronounced dead at 4:43 p.m., a hospital spokeswoman said.

Police are investigating the death as "suspicious."

According to a source, the girl was found in the basement of the house and her head was bleeding profusely. She showed no signs of life when rescue workers arrived, the source said.

Neighbors identified the girl's mother as Katy Souza. At 3:40 p.m., the mother called police to the home in the 8400 block of Sugar Creek Lane after looking for her daughter around the quiet neighborhood, a police spokesman said.

Just a little over two hours earlier, about 1:20 p.m., Destiny had stepped off the school bus on early-closing day, according to neighbors. She was a second-grader at Newington Forest Elementary School. A school spokeswoman said psychologists and counselors would be present at the school today to help students deal with Destiny's death.

"It's shocking for around here," said James Butts, 40, who lives next door. His daughter, Devita, 11, one of Destiny's best friends, was taking the death particularly hard.

"She's really shook up about it," Dellarease Butts, 33, said of her daughter. Devita and Destiny "played everything" together, she said.

Police officers were combing the neighborhood of well-tended town houses in the Newington Forest subdivision yesterday afternoon, but the object of their search was not known. Destiny's pink backpack could be seen hanging inside the hallway of the town house.

"She's usually almost quiet," said Nelson Miranda, 10, who lives in the neighborhood, about Destiny. Added neighbor James Hughes, 11: "She's just like any other girl."