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Key evidence missing in Carlie's killing

Warrant: Smith told witness about killing girl

Mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil in Sarasota Friday evening.
Mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil in Sarasota Friday evening.

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While Joseph P. Smith sits charged with 11-year-old Carlie Brucia's kidnapping and murder, her family and friends mourn her.
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Events leading up to the discovery of Carlie Brucia's remains and the arrest of Joseph P. Smith
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Police search for key evidence: Carlie Brucia's pink backpack.
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Video camera catches abduction of Carlie Brucia.
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Amber Alert
Carlie Brucia

SARASOTA, Florida (CNN) -- Authorities are asking for the public's help in finding "key pieces of evidence" that could lead to the conviction of Joseph P. Smith in the death of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia, whose body was recovered Friday.

Carlie's remains were discovered five days and a few miles from a car wash where a surveillance camera captured chilling images of her abduction Sunday.

Sarasota County Sheriff Bill Balkwill said that key evidence includes a pink knapsack.

"You can find that backpack for us -- do not touch it. Call the sheriff's office. We will come and retrieve it," he said.

Their hopes dashed that Carlie would be found alive, the girl's family, friends and community openly grieved.

Dozens gathered Friday night for a candlelight memorial service.

Authorities were able to recover Carlie's body because Smith confided in a jailhouse witness after his arrest on February 3, according to a warrant.

"On February 5th," the affidavit says, "the defendant told a witness that he abducted and murdered Carlie Brucia. Based upon specific information provided to this witness by the defendant, this witness was able to lead investigators to the body of Carlie Brucia."

Balkwill said Smith, a one-time auto mechanic with a long criminal record, has been charged with murder and kidnapping in Carlie's death and disappearance. Smith has been in jail in Sarasota since Tuesday on unrelated drug possession and probation violation charges.

He has waived his first court appearance that had been set for this weekend.

Carlie's father: 'Now she can see me always'

Carlie's father, Joseph Brucia, who traveled from New York to Florida after her disappearance, said his daughter visited with him four weeks each year. But, he said, now he will try to make her proud by being a better man because "Now she can see me always."

"She's in a better place. She got there in a horrific manner. But now she's watching me all the time," he said.

Carlie's body was found on the property of Central Church of Christ on Proctor Road near Interstate 75, about two miles from the car wash, law enforcement sources said. The girl was walking home from a friend's house when she disappeared. She may have walked through the parking lot of the car wash to get to her neighborhood.

"I blame myself. I should have been there," said Carlie's stepfather Steve Kansler. He said Carlie was part of his family for nine years so he thought of her as his own daughter.

He usually picked her up, but he had taken his son to a farm to play. Kansler said they missed picking up Carlie by "just a couple of minutes at the most."

Kansler said authorities came to the house in the middle of the night to tell the family that they had found her body.

Kansler said he and his wife Susan Schorpen, Carlie's mother, want Smith to stand trial and get the death penalty.

At McIntosh Middle School, where Carlie was a sixth-grader, principal Bob Hagemann promised the school will "do whatever is necessary for the children and for the community."

"The heart of McIntosh Middle School is greatly wounded," Hagemann said, "but McIntosh is on a healing journey."

Car found with possible ties to case

Smith's arrest affidavit also says Smith gave "misleading and false" information during an interview in which he admitted owning a yellow 1992 Buick Century station wagon that had been linked to the investigation.

Flowers are being sent from across the country to a makeshift memorial for Carlie Brucia in Sarasota, Florida.
Flowers are being sent from across the country to a makeshift memorial for Carlie Brucia in Sarasota, Florida.

In that February 3 interview, the affidavit says, Smith denied being near the car wash where a surveillance video shows Carlie being accosted by a man in what appears to be a uniform. But, according to the affidavit, police saw the car in a surveillance video, "in the parking lot of the car wash approximately three minutes prior to Carlie's abduction."

Kansler said early Friday that police told family members they found DNA evidence linking Carlie to the station wagon.

The tag for the car is not registered in Smith's name.

Authorities searched Smith's house in Sarasota's Kensington Park neighborhood Wednesday as well as a field with tall grass behind it. They found no evidence immediately linking Smith to the girl's disappearance, a law enforcement source involved in the investigation said. Forensic examinations will be conducted on certain items taken in the search, the source said.

Kansler also said other people on a nearby driving range may have seen Smith.

Videotape of abduction

The videotape shows a dark-haired man approach Carlie, grab her arm and speak to her briefly before leading her away Sunday.

The footage does not clearly show the man's face, but he appears to be wearing a uniform and has tattoos on his arms. Smith also has tattoos on his arms, authorities said.

Smith was arrested Tuesday after tips from members of the community, authorities said. A woman who said she lives with Smith told CNN she turned him in after seeing the surveillance video on television.

The sheriff called the owners of the car wash "heroes" for providing the videotape and said he wanted the public to know that Smith never worked there.

CNN's Susan Candiotti, Allison Flexner, Patrick Oppmann, Kris Osborn, Rich Philips and John Zarrella contributed to this report.

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