When he opened the recycling bin on May 22 and saw a hand and foot jutting from beneath a pile of concrete blocks, Lake Worth, Fla., police Sgt. Mike Hall's heart sank. An Amber Alert had been sent out that morning for an abducted 8-year-old girl, and the pair of pants police found nearby signaled the worst. Hall gently shook the bin and called, "Are you okay?" The girl didn't respond. Hall radioed into the station that he had found the girl—"but it's not looking good." Lt. Dave Matthews rushed there and looked inside the bin. "Within a few seconds, I saw a finger move. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me," he says. Then suddenly they realized the girl was alive. "It was the most amazing feeling," says Hall. "Joy, elation, it's hard to describe."

The officers began lifting the blocks off the girl, who had been stuffed head first into the bin. Even before paramedics arrived, she was alert enough to tell officers: "M.J....choked me and threw me in the Dumpster. He threw rocks on me and tried to kill me." Police say "M.J." was Milagro Cunningham, 17, a high school dropout living at the house of a friend whose mother is the little girl's godmother. He had reported the child missing before 4 a.m., saying several white men kidnapped her from the home. Police, however, say he took the girl to the landfill two blocks away and assaulted her before shoving her in the bin. "He left her in there pretty much to bake to death," says Hall.

The girl remains hospitalized but is in good condition. "We went from crying to laughing to hugging" says Joy Gardner, 17, the girl's cousin. "We were crying tears of joy." Cunningham, though, faces charges of attempted murder, sexual battery on a child under 12 and false imprisonment of a child under 13. Remembering Jessica Lunsford and Sarah Lunde, two other Florida girls who were abducted and murdered earlier this year, Hall says: "After all that's gone on lately, we finally won one."