FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The man arrested in the disappearance and death of an 8-year-old Arizona girl had been staying in the family’s home, and police say he shoplifted clothing for himself to cover up the crime.
Police caught up with Justin James Rector near a Wal-Mart store in Bullhead City on Tuesday shortly after the family of Isabella “Bella” Grogan-Cannella reported her missing. He was booked into jail later that night on suspicion of shoplifting and remained in custody as authorities searched for Isabella.
On Thursday, police announced that the 26-year-old with a lengthy criminal record had been charged with murder and kidnapping. He was being held without bond.
A public defender appointed to his case did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press.
Isabella’s body was found in a shallow grave at the base of a hill in a desert area near her home along with shoe prints that matched Rector’s old shoes, Bullhead City police said.
“It didn’t go the way we all wanted (it) to,” said Bullhead City police Chief Brian Williamson. “We set out to find Bella alive and bring her home, but we have completed this mission of bringing someone to justice for Bella’s death.”
Police have not released a motive or said how she died. An autopsy was being conducted Thursday, the medical examiner’s office said.
Court records indicate Rector has a criminal record involving a dozen cases in the Bullhead City area between 2006 and 2014. His convictions include disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal damage, aggravated assault, assault and criminal trespassing.
Police said he took underwear, shoes and a shirt from Wal-Mart early Tuesday. He told police he hid his old shoes and a shirt in the store, according to a probable cause statement.
Williamson described Rector as a family friend and said he had been staying at Isabella’s Bullhead City home when the girl was reported missing early Tuesday morning. The city on the Arizona-Nevada border is about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas.
Isabella’s 10-year-old sister told authorities that she went to the restroom while she and Isabella were playing hide and seek, and when she got out, Isabella and Rector were gone, according to a statement of probable cause.
Family and friends searched for her without luck before calling police Tuesday around 1:30 a.m. PDT. Dozens of police, firefighters and volunteers later fanned out in Bullhead City neighborhoods, parks and near river areas to look for the girl.
Investigators found no signs of a break-in or struggle at the home, and Isabella’s sister told police she didn’t hear any yelling or disturbances, Williamson said.
Isabella was discovered wearing the same green, ruffled, sparkly tank top she had on when she was last seen. When found, she did not have any clothing on her lower half, according to court documents. Williamson declined to say whether she had been sexually assaulted.
When questioned about her murder, Rector told authorities he could not talk about it and requested an attorney. He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 12.
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