Football coach charged in Missouri girl’s death

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ST. LOUIS (AP) - A middle-school football coach was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in the death of a 10-year-old girl who was snatched off a street just blocks from her southwest Missouri home as several residents watched in horror.

Craig Michael Wood also faces kidnapping and armed criminal action charges, according to Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson, who filed the charges late Wednesday afternoon. Wood is accused of kidnapping fourth-grader Hailey Owens in Springfield as she walked home from a friend’s house Tuesday evening.

Patterson said the girl had been shot in the head.

Wood was inside a truck parked outside his small, single-story home in Springfield when police arrested him Tuesday night. A probable cause statement released Wednesday said the 45-year-old Wood was holding a roll of duct tape in his hands when officers arrived, and that the girl’s body was found in his basement - stuffed in two trash bags inside plastic storage containers. The floor was still damp from bleach, the 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.

Witnesses told investigators that a man in a gold 2008 Ford Ranger pickup truck drove down the street several times before abducting Hailey. 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.

Springfield school officials said Wood is a seventh-grade football coach and teacher’s aide who supervises in-school suspensions at Pleasant View School, which has students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Norm Ridder, the Springfield district’s superintendent, said in a statement Wednesday that Wood began working for the district in August 1998. He said Wood has been suspended since his arrest.

Wood was initially hired as a temporary employee who worked as a substitute teacher before he was hired full time in 2006, school district spokeswoman Teresa Bledsoe said later Wednesday. He has coached football at Pleasant View since 1998 and was also an assistant boys’ basketball coach.

“He met all of our qualifications for employment,” Bledsoe said, noting that the Springfield district has a more rigorous background check requirement than state law, with an additional screening designed to detect substantiated allegations of child abuse or neglect as well as any past criminal violations.

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