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School coach charged with murder in Missouri girl's abduction

Greene County Missouri Sheriff's Office photo shows Craig Michael Wood who was arrested on suspicion of first degree murder in Springfield,
Greene County Missouri Sheriff's Office photo shows Craig Michael Wood who was arrested on suspicion of first degree murder in Springfield,

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A Missouri prosecutor on Wednesday charged an elementary school coach with first degree murder in the death of a 10-year-old girl who had gone missing, hours after authorities said they recovered her body at his home.

Craig Michael Wood, 45, was charged with first degree murder, armed criminal action and child kidnapping in the abduction of Hailey Owens, said Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson.

"To apprehend this offender in just over three hours is a remarkable response," Patterson told a news conference. "It is a tragedy that it was not quick enough to save Hailey. But I don't believe there is anything else they could have done in this case."

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.

Police said they found Hailey's body in a plastic storage tote in the basement of Wood's home with a gunshot to the head and ligature marks on her arms.

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.

(Editing by Bernard Orr)

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