Suspect leads police to body
VALLEY PARK, Missouri (CNN) -- A suspect held in connection with the disappearance Friday of a 6-year-old girl led authorities to a body police believe is that of Cassandra "Casey" Williamson, St. Louis County Police Chief Ron Battelle told CNN.
The drama gripped U.S. television viewers all day Friday, from the morning hours when the girl was reported missing to late afternoon, when a body matching her description was found in an abandoned glass factory near the girl's neighborhood.
Johnny Johnson, a 24-year-old transient, had been taken into custody.
The news came amid a series of morbid child abduction cases from coast to coast -- Elizabeth Smart in Utah, Samantha Runnion and Danielle van Dam in California. Earlier this week, Erica Pratt, a spunky 7-year-old Philadelphia girl, escaped captivity nearly a day after she was spirited into a car by two men.
In Missouri, the latest case panicked, saddened and angered the community.
"At some point in time, the suspect began cooperating with detectives and he indicated where she was. Citizens in the area who were also searching -- it was almost at the same time -- located her in this abandoned glass factory," said the police chief.
Earlier, the chief said that the girl's body hasn't been positively identified, "but we feel certain it's hers." The body was covered with debris; a medical examiner will determine cause of death, Battelle said. "We were hopeful that we were going to find her alive, but sadly we didn't do it," he said, his voice quavering.
"We'll be seeking at least murder charges," Battelle said. "... He's made a statement and is cooperating. ... It appears as though he was the only one involved."
After processing the crime scene, "we're gonna work hard to gather the evidence to hopefully put him in jail, and maybe even the death penalty, which he probably deserves if he did, in fact, do this."
Johnson has "a minor arrest record," Battelle said.
About 100 searchers spent the day searching a park area along the bank of the Meramec River, only a few blocks from the house. Tracking dogs from the Department of Corrections were brought in to help, and divers from the St. Louis Fire Department searched the river bottom. FBI agents were also called in.
"It was a couple county officers that found the suspect walking up the street early this morning," Battelle said.
Police said Cassandra was last seen wearing a white nightgown inside the neighbor's house around 7 a.m. by her father, Ernest Williamson.
Battelle said Casey and her father "were in a home across the street from their residence with some other people" including Johnson, identified earlier in the day as a homeless man. He had spent the night in the house.
"When he (the father) got up in the morning, He looked in the living room and Casey was in the living room along with John Johnson, our suspect. He seen him in there and then he went to the restroom and when he came back to the living room, both were gone," Battelle said.
"We knew he was in there and we knew he left with her."
The girl's parents are separated and her father had been staying in recent days at the neighbor's house so that he could help out with the family, said his wife, Angela Williamson, who lives next door in this suburb about 12 miles west of St. Louis.
"They wanted to spend the night with their daddy last night, so we all slept over there with him because my kids are like -- if Daddy's around, they don't want Mommy, you know?"
When he was unable to find his daughter, Williamson awakened his wife, Angela, and asked her if she knew where Cassandra was, Mrs. Williamson said. "I said, 'I don't know. She was sleeping with you. What do you mean, where's Casey?' "
The woman then alerted her neighbors, and searched several of their homes, but did not find her daughter. "I just want my baby. I just want my baby," she wailed.
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