Monday, June 16 2014 11:26 AM EDT2014-06-16 15:26:06 GMT
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SPRINGFIELD, MO (KCTV) -
Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson announced Wednesday afternoon that he has filed first-degree murder and child kidnapping charges in the death of a 10-year-old Springfield girl abducted while walking to a friend's home.
Craig Michael Wood, 45, a Springfield school district employee, has been charged with first-degree murder, child kidnapping and armed criminal action. He is accused of planning to kidnap Hailey M. Owens, and then fatally shooting her.
"My office is committed to seeking justice for Hailey," Patterson said.
Under Missouri law, the child-kidnapping charge could allow Patterson to seek the death penalty against Wood if he is convicted of first-degree murder. The only other punishment for a first-degree murder conviction is life behind bars.
Patterson said he will consult with Hailey's family before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
"That decision is a ways off," Patterson said during an evening news conference.
The child's maternal grandmother, Delinda Fereby, remembered her granddaughter as a "real girly-girl" who was full of joy and life.
"She was always laughing and dancing and she was a big hugger," she recalled. "If she didn't know you, she'd get to know you right away."
Hailey has an older brother.
"All I can say right now is I miss her and I love her," her father, Markus Owens told a Springfield television station.
Police believe they found early Wednesday Hailey's body inside the home where Wood was staying.
A medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to formally confirm the identity of Hailey.
Wood is being held in the Greene County Jail, and bond is unlikely to be set on a first-degree murder charge.
Authorities say Wood was a stranger to Hailey, but Wood was an employee and coach in the school district where she was a fourth grader. Hailey's body was found inside the house at 1538 E. Stanford St. where Wood was living, Police Chief Paul Williams said.
"It's tragic, it's horrific," Williams said.
WARNING: The following details from court documents are upsetting.
A medical examiner examined the body at Wood's home and determined she was shot in the base of her skull, according to court records. Her arms had also been bound.
A spent .22-shell casing was found inside Wood's residence.
After obtaining a search warrant, crime scene technicians found Hailey's body folded into two trash bags and crammed into a plastic tote. Wood apparently tried to conceal the tote in the basement, according to court records.
The smell of bleach was strong in the basement and authorities said they found evidence that Wood had used bottles of bleach in the basement.
Wood was arrested after a three-state manhunt for the girl. Williams said Wood is refusing to speak to investigators, and so they don't have a motive. Court documents say Wood denied any contact with Hailey.
Neighbors who saw the abduction called 911 at 4:48 p.m. Tuesday. Officers took 10 minutes to get there. After interviewing witnesses, police quickly determined that it was a stranger abduction and issued an Amber Alert to the Springfield area within an hour. The Missouri Highway Patrol issued its Amber Alert about 7 p.m. Tuesday, and it was extended about 9:30 p.m. to include Kansas and Oklahoma.
The Amber Alert was canceled Wednesday morning after her body was found. Family members were told about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Authorities are searching Wood's home as well as Dutch Maid Laundry at 526 S. National Ave. FBI agents are looking through washers and dryers at the laundromat. Workers said a man matching Wood's description used a washer and two dryers to clean sheets, blankets and other clothing items. FBI agents seized bags of laundry.
Hailey was walking from her home to a friend's house when witnesses described seeing Wood pull up in a pickup truck and try to speak to the girl. This was in the area of Lombard Street and Laurel Avenue.
Carlos and Michelle Edwards were enjoying the warm evening while sitting in their garage. They saw a man in a gold-colored 2008 Ford Ranger pickup drive up and down the street several times before approaching Hailey. He allegedly sought directions.
The girl initially resisted his overtures, according to witnesses. However, as he continued to press for help with directions, witnesses said she eventually got close enough that Wood jumped out and threw her into the truck before taking off. Witnesses described the vehicle as a gold-colored 2008 Ford Ranger.
"She initially ignored (his attempts at conversation) and then came back and spoke to the driver, and at which time he suddenly jumped out and grabbed her and pulled her into the vehicle. Our witnesses said it happened just that quick," Williams said. "The vehicle sped off with her inside the vehicle."
Michelle Edwards described Wood pouncing when Hailey took a step or two toward the vehicle.
"She said the male lunged out of the vehicle, grabbed the girl with his left hand, and threw her in the truck 'like a rag doll.' Michelle said the suspect then fled the area at a very high rate of speed," according to court documents.
Michelle Edwards remembered the exact license plate. This allowed police to find Wood's father, who was the registered owner and lived in a nearby community.
"He's my son, and he's in a lot of trouble," Jim Wood told the Springfield News-Leader.
Police zeroed in on Wood and arrested him by 8:30 p.m., authorities said Wednesday morning. He was found sitting in the pickup truck outside the home where he was staying. Wood was booked into jail at 11:30 p.m.
Police looked through the home and did not see Hailey. After getting a search warrant, they combed the house and found her body.
Court records show Wood has a drug conviction from about 25 years ago in Missouri.
Carlos Edwards told authorities that he ran after the truck after seeing the abduction, as his wife got the license plate number and called 911. Both gave detailed descriptions to police.
The police chief said others witnessed the abduction and also alerted authorities.
Williams praised the couple.
"There were a couple of very good witnesses," the police chief said. "The fact that people are paying attention and actually tried to stop the abduction . . . is to be commended."
The prosecutor became choked up and emotional as he thanked those who tried to save Hailey from harm.
Several witnesses chased on foot after the vehicle while one person hopped in a car and took off, but lost sight of the Ranger, Williams said. That driver was on the phone with 911 while pursuing the vehicle.
"More than one person was involved in trying to stop this, and unfortunately it didn't happen," the police chief said.
After running the plates, police found Wood's father, who owned the vehicle. Wood's father directed police to his son and his residence. Williams said Wood pulled up to the house while officers surreptitiously were watching it, and was arrested without issues.
According to court records, Wood had a roll of duct tape in his hand, which he tossed into the bed of his father's pickup truck when he was arrested.
Wood allegedly went to a laundromat after killing Hailey and was returning when police arrested him.
Springfield R-12 school superintendent Dr. Norm Ridder said Wood has been employed by district since Aug. 18, 1998.
Wood works as a paraprofessional and athletic coach at Pleasant View K-8 School. Ridder said Wood's employment has been suspended.
Hailey was a student at Westport Elementary and last year she attended Bowerman Elementary.
"I offer my support to Hailey's family and to our SPS community. Students and staff at three of our schools are coping with this situation. To support these school communities directly impacted by this tragedy, I have assigned additional counseling staff and school police officers to be on hand until further notice," Ridder said in his statement.
Williams said police officers worked the scene quickly and got an Amber Alert out to the Springfield area in about an hour. The Missouri Highway Patrol issued an Amber Alert in about two hours after the first 911 call was made.
Hailey was less than two blocks from her home when she was abducted, Williams said. He urged parents to be vigilant.
"I always encourage parents to be vigilant all the time anyway. This should just help people realize they should heighten their awareness. It can happen anywhere to anyone in a blink of an eye," he said. "It's not something we like to admit. It's something I'd like to be able to prevent. You can protect your kids as best as you can."
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DEVELOPINGSchool employee accused of abducting, killing Springfield girlMore>>
Monday, June 16 2014 11:25 AM EDT2014-06-16 15:25:23 GMT
A grade school coach has been jailed on suspicion of first-degree murder in the abduction and death of a 10-year-old Springfield girl.A body believed to be that of Hailey Owens was found Wednesday at aMore >>
A grade school coach has been jailed on suspicion of first-degree murder in the abduction and death of a 10-year-old Springfield girl. Here is a timeline of events in the case.More >>