Police in Springfield, Mo., believe they have found a girl’s body at the home of a school football coach who is suspected of abducting 10-year-old Hailey Owens.
“While she has not positively been identified, we have a high degree of confidence that it is our victim, Hailey Owens,” Police Chief Paul F. Williams said at a press conference late Wednesday morning. Confirmation will depend on an autopsy, he said.
The body was inside Craig Michael Wood’s home in the 1500 block of East Stanford Street in Springfield.
Police arrested Wood and booked him into the Greene County jail about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday on suspicion of first-degree murder.
Police and FBI investigators were still gathering at the home and elsewhere Wednesday morning, Williams said.
The Springfield School District said Wood is a seventh-grade football coach and teacher’s aide who supervises in-school suspensions at Pleasant View K-8 School. School spokesman Teresa Bledsoe said he was initially hired as a temporary employee who worked as a substitute teacher before he was hired full time in 2006. He has coached football at Pleasant View since 1998 and was also an assistant boys’ basketball coach. He has been suspended until the investigation has been resolved, according to the release.
Hailey attended Westport Elementary this year and attended Bowerman Elementary School last year, the district said. Police do not believe Hailey and Wood knew each other.
“Last night we learned the terrible news that one of our students had been abducted near her home,” Superintendent Norm Ridder said. “This morning, our sadness is compounded by the recent developments in the case of Hailey Owens’ abduction.”
Wood’s father, Jim Wood of Ash Grove, Mo., said he spoke with his son Tuesday night but would not say whether it was before the arrest or give details about their conversation.
“The only thing I can tell you is that Craig is my son,” Wood said. “I can tell you it is just a tragedy. We’re stunned, for everybody who knows him.”
Jim Wood said Wednesday morning that he and his family planned to speak with their attorney before speaking further.
“I am not fully aware of all of the charges,” he said. “I’m kind of a little bit out of the loop. The family and friends are trying to make some appropriate plan.”
Hailey was abducted shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday in the 3200 block of West Lombard Street, near her home.
Witnesses told investigators a man in a gold 2008 Ford Ranger drove down the street several times before the abduction.
“At some point (witnesses) observed the vehicle pull up and the driver have a conversation with the young girl,” Williams said. “She initially ignored and then came back and spoke with the driver at which time he suddenly jumped out, grabbed her and pulled her into the vehicle.”
The driver sped off with Hailey. A couple of witnesses chased on foot. Another one got into a car and tried to follow but lost the truck. The witness called 911.
“More than one person was involved in trying to stop this. Unfortunately it didn’t happen,” Williams said.
Police said they were able to find Wood because of “very good witnesses” who described the pickup and got its license plate number. Investigators tracked that to the pickup owner and from that they were led to their suspect.
Police issued a news release about the abduction and posted information on social media, including details about the victim, the suspect and the suspect’s vehicle.
Police also sent information to the Missouri Highway Patrol, following the Amber Alert protocol. An Amber Alert was issued at 7 p.m. in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
It took police about three and half to four hours to track the vehicle to Wood’s residence. Police were watching the house when he drove up in the truck.
“At approximately at 8:30 p.m., investigators in the 1500 block of East Stanford Street following up on a lead related to potential suspects did locate the vehicle and a suspect in the vehicle,” Williams said. “At that time the subject accompanied the investigators to headquarters about the potential crime.”
Police tried to interview Wood, but he would not to speak with them.
“We don’t have answers to those questions as to motive or why it happened,” Williams said.
About 11:30 p.m., authorities searched the area around the home on Stanford Street.
“That resulted in evidence to this case and evidence of foul play,” Williams said.
Police got a warrant to search the house about 2:15 a.m. Wednesday and discovered the body about 2:40 a.m. Williams said the body was inside the house, but would not discuss details.
It wasn’t until about 10:45 a.m. that police were able to say “with a high degree of confidence” that the body was a young female, potentially Hailey.
Authorities have also searched the Dutch Maid Laundry on National Avenue in Springfield.
Attendant Tressa Brown arrived at work about 7 a.m. Wednesday and said agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation were inside combing for evidence. She said Wood is believed to have been using one washer and two dryers Tuesday evening.
“They took all of his laundry,” Brown said of authorities. “They took at least five bags of laundry.”
She said she didn’t recognize Wood or believe he was a regular customer. The laundry closes at 10 p.m. but doesn’t allow customers to begin washing their clothes after 9, so Brown said Wood must have been in before then.
The investigation is ongoing, Williams said. Springfield had requested help from the Missouri Highway Patrol, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, which sent an evidence response team and was assisting in processing the crime scene.
FBI Director James Comey, speaking to reporters during a previously scheduled visit to the bureau’s Kansas City field office, said one of his agency’s evidence response teams was in Springfield to assist the police.
“Our hearts break for that beautiful girl and her family,” Comey said.