A Missouri middle school sports coach charged in the grisly murder of a 10-year-old girl shot the bubbly fourth grader in the head, authorities have revealed, after he snatched her off the street and threw her into his truck ‘like a rag doll.’
Craig Michael Wood, 45, is facing first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action charges in the death of Hailey Owens, who was taken from the street in front of horrified witnesses while walking home from a friend’s house Tuesday evening in Springfield. He could be sentenced to death if convicted.
Hailey’s body was found in his basement early Wednesday – stuffed in two trash bags inside plastic storage containers. The floor was still damp from bleach, a probable cause statement said.
Authorities won’t officially confirm that the body is Hailey’s until after an autopsy, but Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said ‘we have a high degree of confidence’ in the preliminary identification, which indicates that it is the girl.
Wood was inside a truck parked outside his small, single-story home in Springfield when police arrested him Tuesday night, just hours after the abduction. The truck is owned by the suspect’s parents, Jim and Regina Wood, who told authorities their son drove the vehicle.
The 45-year-old was holding a roll of duct tape in his hands when officers arrived, the statement said. Wood agreed to go to police headquarters for an interview where he denied having any contact with his alleged victim.
According to Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson, who filed the charges with tears in his eyes late Wednesday afternoon, Wood grabbed the girl as several residents watched in horror and later shot her in the back of the head in his home.
A spent .22 caliber shell casing was also found in the basement of his home. There was also evidence that her wrists had been tied, according to the probable cause statement, though no other details about what happened between the kidnapping and her death have been released.
Witnesses told investigators that a man in a gold 2008 Ford Ranger pickup truck drove down the street several times before abducting Hailey.
They said they heard the driver ask the girl where ‘Springfield Street’ was. She turned to walk away from the vehicle before the driver opened the door and said, ‘Hey come here a minute.’
Owens took a step or two toward the truck before ‘the male then lunged out of the vehicle’ and grabbed her.
Williams said the witnesses called 911 to report the truck’s license number.
Resident Ricky Riggins told the Springfield News-Leader he chased the fleeing pickup in his car after a neighbor tried to pull the girl away.
‘I couldn’t keep up,’ Riggins told the newspaper. ‘He was probably five to six cars ahead of me. … It was so fast.’
Hailey did not attend Pleasant View School, where Wood worked. She was a student at Westport Elementary School this year, and attended Bowerman Elementary School last year.
Williams said the girl and Wood apparently didn’t know each other.
‘There’s no connection that we’ve been able to determine at this time between the victim and the suspect,’ the chief said.
Hailey’s aunt, Erin Petersen, believes the suspect was on a mission to find a girl Tuesday night.
‘And it just so happened he found my girl,’ she told the News-Leader tearfully Wednesday.