Missouri town shocked by girl’s abduction, slaying; coach arrested
Police said they found Hailey Owens in Craig Michael Wood’s basement in the middle of the night. She’d been missing less than 10 hours, but it was already too late.
The skinny 10-year-old Springfield, Mo., student had last been seen about a block from her house Tuesday afternoon, when a stranger pulled up in a truck and snatched her away as neighbors watched in shock and gave chase.
One neighbor got the gold Ford Ranger’s license plate, which started investigators on a trail that ended in Wood’s basement.
There, investigators said they found two tote boxes stacked on top of each other.
In the top tote were papers and documents.
In the bottom tote, wrapped in two trash bags, was Hailey’s body, authorities said.
She’d been shot in the back of the head with a single .22 round, said investigators, who added that the found the shell casing in the basement. She had ligature marks on her arms, they said, often a sign that someone has been tied up.
The scene and the slaying disturbed Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson, who became emotional almost immediately after he began his news conference Wednesday evening. He announced that Wood, 45, had been charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder.
“As a father of an 8-year-old and 11-year-old daughters, these are very hard facts to talk about,” Patterson told reporters.
Wood was arrested outside his home about 3 1/2 hours after Hailey went missing. He was a seventh-grade football coach and teacher’s aide at a school other than the one Hailey attended, the Kansas City Star reported.
Police and residents of Springfield struggled to comprehend a possible motive for Wood, who could face the death penalty. Officials said they suspected he acted alone.
“I have no idea regarding motivation and what would cause somebody to do something like this,” Springfield Police Chief Paul F. Williams said at a news conference earlier in the day. He added that there was “no indication at this point that they knew each other at all.”
Wood’s father, Jim Wood of Ash Grove, Mo., told local media that he first knew something was wrong when he came home and found police waiting.
He was the owner of the gold Ford Ranger, yes. But he told the officers that his son, who lived in Springfield, drove the truck.
“He’s my son, and he’s in a lot of trouble,” Jim Wood told the Springfield News-Leader.
Wood was being held in the Greene County jail without bond as he awaited his first court appearance Thursday. Police said he had declined to answer questions and had asked for a lawyer.
Hailey’s kidnapping and killing sent waves of unease through the community, not least because Wood had been working for the Springfield school district since 1998.
“I’m always warning my son … ‘Don’t wander off, stay beside me; you don’t know what kind of weirdos are out there,’ ” Libby Arnold, a parent of a local student, told KY3-TV. “For this to happen [with a staff member] at his own school, I just can’t believe it.”
Police said Wood had a minor criminal history that involved drugs; Missouri online court records showed a criminal conviction in the Springfield area from 1990. But “nothing related to something like this at all,” said Williams, the police chief.
Springfield residents left flowers in Hailey’s neighborhood and at her school, according to photos on social media.
Westport Elementary School Principal Gary Tew told a News-Leader reporter that students coped by drawing and writing letters, with extra counselors also on hand to help.
Tew reportedly became emotional while talking about Hailey and how she was helpful to students who were new to the school.
“New students that would come to the classroom she would welcome with open arms and make them her friend,” Tew told the newspaper. “That’s the kind of person she was, caring for others and really doing for others what she would want done unto herself.”
Mugshot: Craig Wood. Booked on a complaint of first degree murder in connection with the abduction of Hailey Owens. pic.twitter.com/4UBEk1Bmle— FOX23 (@FOX23) February 19, 2014
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