Community grieves, remembers life of Hailey Owens - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Community grieves, remembers life of Hailey Owens

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Neighbors watched in horror as a 10-year-old Hailey Owens was snatched off the street just blocks from her Springfield home. Neighbors watched in horror as a 10-year-old Hailey Owens was snatched off the street just blocks from her Springfield home.
SPRINGFIELD, MO (KCTV/AP) -

Neighbors watched in horror as a 10-year-old Springfield girl was snatched off the street just blocks from her home.

Some had spotted a man in a gold Ford Ranger pickup truck driving down the road in Springfield several times before the driver took off with the girl, investigators said. The residents even called 911 to report the truck's license number.

But the vehicle moved too quickly. And Hailey Owens was gone.

Now prosecutors have charged Craig Michael Wood with first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action. In filing the charges Wednesday, they alleged that the 45-year-old middle school football coach and teacher's aide abducted Hailey as she walked home from a friend's house Tuesday.

A probable cause statement said the fourth-grader's body was found stuffed in two trash bags inside plastic storage containers in the basement of Wood's Springfield home. She had been shot in the head, according to Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson.

The basement floor was still damp from bleach, according to the probable cause statement.

"I hope she didn't know anything was going to happen to her. It is not fair. My heart goes out to the family for sure," Wood's neighbor, Phaedra Baumgardner, 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.

According to the probable cause statement, resident Michelle Edwards told police she and her husband were in their garage when saw a pickup truck approach the girl, who was holding a cellphone. She said the driver asked the girl for directions before he grabbed her with one hand and threw her into the truck "like a rag doll."

"It is sad.  It is tragic. It has affected me all day," said neighbor Joe Horton, who walks his dog by Wood's home every night.

"I hope justice prevails.  He is a nut.  He is crazy.  What other explanation is there?" he said.

Wood was inside a truck parked outside his home when police arrested him Tuesday night. The probable cause statement said he was holding a roll of duct tape when officers arrived.

The truck is registered to Wood's father, Jim Wood, who told police he loaned the vehicle to his son. The father, who lives in nearby Ash Grove, declined an interview request from The Associated Press.

A family friend of Wood's parents told KCTV5 that his parents are good people, and they are devastated.

And those in Hailey's neighborhood are struggling to understand how something like this could have happened.

"I'm just really shaken about the whole thing, because you just never know anymore.  You can't trust anybody," Hailey's neighbor Samantha Jones said.

Wood and the girl apparently didn't know each other. Hailey attended Westport Elementary School; Wood worked at Pleasant View School.

Springfield school officials said Wood is a seventh-grade football coach and teacher's aide who supervises in-school suspensions at Pleasant View, 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.

Still, it has parents wondering about how the district checks employees' backgrounds.

"Just really looking into it, even if it's something that might have happened years ago," Jones said.

Bledsoe said 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.

Online court records show Wood had little criminal history. He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance in 1990 in Greene County and was fined $100. Wood also was convicted in 2001 for illegal taking of wildlife, a misdemeanor.

Springfield schools said that Wood passed a background check in 2006 when he became full time and that the state now follows up with annual checks.

The schools have extra counselors on hand now to help students cope, while parents say they'll honor Hailey's memory by being alert.

"Just be aware of my surroundings, looking out for other children, not just mine," Jones said.

Hailey's grandmother, Delinda Fereby, described her as full of joy – always laughing and dancing, and that's how they're trying to remember her.

Police say they have no idea of a motive for the killing since Wood has not talked to investigators since his arrest.

Joe Bridges, a local music promoter who was organizing a candlelight vigil for Hailey scheduled for Saturday, said that residents in the city of 162,000 are collectively mourning the child's abduction and death.

"The community is walking around right now with a very heavy heart," said Bridges, who described himself as a distant relative of Hailey but said he didn't know her well. "Everybody is just speechless."

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