February 19, 2014 / 3:25 PM / 4 years ago

Body found at school coach's house in Missouri girl abduction case

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Missouri authorities on Wednesday recovered a body believed to be that of missing 10-year-old Hailey Owens, whose abduction Tuesday sparked a multi-state search.

Greene County Missouri Sheriff's Office photo shows Craig Michael Wood who was arrested on suspicion of first degree murder in Springfield, Missouri on February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Greene County Sheriff's Office/Handout via Reuters

The body was found at the residence of elementary school coach Craig Michael Wood, 45, who has been arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder in the abduction, police said.

“While she has not been positively identified, we have a high degree of confidence that it is our victim, Hailey Owens,” Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams told a news conference.

Witnesses said Hailey was walking down a street shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday as a man driving a pickup truck pulled alongside her. She ignored him at first but then began talking to him, at which point he pulled her into his vehicle and sped off, witnesses told police.

Some people gave chase on foot and a motorist followed the pickup but lost it in traffic, Williams said. Witness calls to police about the abduction triggered multiple Amber Alerts in Missouri and neighboring states.

Police found the registered owner of the truck, who identified Wood as the likely driver. They staked out the residence where Wood lived and questioned him when he got home. He was taken to police headquarters at about 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and arrested three hours later.

An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of death and the case is being prepared for prosecutors, Williams said. Wood is not answering questions from investigators about the alleged crime or motive.

Police said there was no reason to believe Wood and the girl knew each other. Wood has a drug charge on his record.

Wood has worked in Springfield public schools since 1998 and was a paraprofessional and athletic coach at Pleasant View K-8 school, Superintendent Norm Ridder said in statement posted on the district’s website on Wednesday. Wood has been suspended, pending the results of the investigation, he said.

Hailey attended Westport Elementary School, Ridder said. Police officers and extra counselors were called in on Wednesday to help students cope with the tragedy, Ridder said.

Edited by Chris Francescani

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