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Body found is likely abducted Mo. girl, police say

4:14 PM, Feb 19, 2014   |    comments
(Photo: Owens family)
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (USA TODAY) - A body found in the home of a suspect arrested for child abduction is likely a 10-year-old girl taken off the street here Tuesday evening, police say.

Hours after an unshaven white man thought to be in his early 40s pulled Hailey Owens into a Ford Ranger pickup, the suspect's vehicle was found with the man inside at a residence here. Officers arrested Craig Michael Wood and began to search his home, Police Chief Paul Williams said at a news conference Wednesday.

Wood, 45, was booked Tuesday into Greene County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, according to online jail records. At 11 a.m. CT, the Greene County Prosecutor's Office had not yet announced a probable cause statement seeking charges against Wood.

Evidence of foul play was found at the home, which the suspect owns, Williams said. Officers also were searching a laundry in connection with the case.

Wood does not appear to know Hailey, police say. And so far, Wood has refused to speak. No other suspects appear to be involved in the crime.

"I know an officer had to sit here all night 'til the FBI got here," said Tressa Brown, an attendant on duty at the laundry who initially was not allowed to report for work until officials finished their search. "He (the suspect) was washing away his evidence, I'm guessing."

Hailey had long sandy blonde hair, weighed about 90 pounds and was wearing jean shorts and purple flip-flops, police said. Tests will have to be conducted to confirm the identity of the body, but a multistate missing-child Amber alert issued Tuesday was canceled Wednesday.

A Springfield Public Schools employee database shows Craig M. Wood was hired in August 1998 as a paraprofessional for in-school suspension. A current staff list on the Pleasant View Middle School website shows a Craig Wood working this year as well.

A witness, Carlos Edwards, told a News-Leader photographer that he saw the girl being abducted as he and his wife sat in the garage of their home. He said the girl had been visiting with a friend on the street and lived nearby.

The suspect drove up and down the street several times before pulling up to the girl and asking her if she knew the location of "Springfield Street" to get her closer to the truck before grabbing her, Edwards said. The girl was pulled through the open driver's side door, over the driver and placed in the passenger seat.

"We don't know where Hailey is," police initially said. "We don't know if she knew this man. We don't think that she does." Police also said the girl's mother "does not know who is in that truck."

Williams said he has not dealt with an abduction by a stranger in all of his years of police work.

Describing his shock while recounting what he saw, Edwards said he tried to run after the truck as his wife got the license number and called 911.

He spoke with concern about the girl and surprise that the man had grabbed the girl right in front of him.

"I can't believe he didn't see us sitting here in the garage," he said, explaining he heard the man talk to the girl.

On Tuesday before the news of the body was released, Hailey's mother said she was trying to stay strong - and positive.

"My nerves are shot," said Stacey Owens about two hours after her daughter, a fourth-grader, was abducted.

Owens said the family lives a couple of blocks from where Hailey was taken. She said she and her husband, Jeff, along with their young son, are trying to find strength through the ordeal.

Springfield Public Schools officials are cooperating with authorities in the case and assigned additional counselors to three schools - Pleasant View where Wood worked, an elementary school where Hailey attended and another school that she went to last year - according to a statement from the school district.

"She's a very lively, bubbly, sweet little girl," Hailey's aunt, Erin Petersen, said Tuesday night. "She's spontaneous, very innocent."

"I'm in shock right now," Petersen said.

Joe Bridges, a Springfield entertainment promoter who says he is Hailey's distant relative, has organized a candlelight vigil for the Owens family.

"This family was not anywhere near ready to bury this 10-year-old daughter," he said.

Contributing: Dean Curtis and Christine Temple, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader

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