PHOENIX (Reuters) - A family friend was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of first-degree murder and kidnapping after the body of a missing 8-year-old girl was discovered in a shallow grave in northwest Arizona, police said.
Justin James Rector, 26, who was staying at the girl’s home, was booked into Mohave County jail for the murder of Isabella Grogan-Cannella, said Bullhead City Police Chief Brian Williamson.
“I am confirming that the man believed to be responsible for the death of Bella is in custody,” Williamson told a news conference.
He said investigators have yet to establish a motive for the killing of the girl, who was reported missing by her family two days ago. A body found on Wednesday near the family’s residence has been positively identified by a medical examiner.
Officers were called to the home early on Tuesday after the family found the child was missing from her bedroom. Police said there was no sign of forced entry or a struggle, and that the mother told investigators the girl had no reason to run away, and that she would have told an adult if she was leaving.
The body was found after police agencies from across the state and the FBI canvassed the area looking for the 4-foot-8-inch girl with shoulder-length dark blonde hair and blue eyes.
Williamson said the girl’s 10-year-old sister appears to have been the last person to see her, spotting her with Rector at about 11:30 p.m. on Monday. The sister went to the bathroom, he added, and when she returned, they were gone.
“Bella’s sister did not hear any yelling or any kind of disturbance,” the police chief told reporters.
Police said Rector was arrested on shoplifting charges on Tuesday after he stole clothes to change into after the murder. Police said his old clothing was recovered.
He was questioned and considered an investigative lead in the case until his re-arrest, Williamson said. An FBI forensic team was able to match “unique shoe prints” left at the crime scene as being from Rector, he said.
Court papers showed Rector did not deny the murder but said he could not talk about it, then requested an attorney.
“We set out to find Bella alive and bring her home, but we have completed the mission of bringing someone to justice for Bella’s death,” Williamson said.
Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler