August 23, 2016 11:02 PM
A man accused of kidnapping and killing a 5-year-old girl from central Minnesota has officially been charged.
Twenty-five-year-old Zachary Todd Anderson of Coon Rapids has been charged with second-degree murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, theft of a motor vehicle and two counts of kidnapping in the abduction and death of Alayna Ertl.
According to the criminal complaint, Anderson and Alayna’s father were friends and played softball together. The night before Alayna was found dead, police say Anderson and Alayna’s father had played softball and then went out with friends before returning to the Ertls’ home in Watkins, Minnesota, which is about 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Police say Alayna’s father came home about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, and Anderson arrived between 3:30 and 3:45 a.m. Saturday. They stayed up talking until 4 a.m., which was when Alayna’s father went to bed.
Alayna’s mother said Alayna had fallen asleep on the couch and was carried into her room about 2:30 a.m. Police say that was the last time her family saw her alive.
Alayna was discovered missing at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, and the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office was called at 9:56 a.m.
Anderson was also missing along with the Ertls’ 2002 GMC Sierra pickup, prompting an AMBER Alert.
At 1:58 p.m. Saturday, Anderson’s father contacted the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and said he believed his son was the subject of the AMBER Alert. He said Anderson had called earlier that day and asked for permission to go to their family cabin in Motley, Minnesota.
When investigators arrived at the cabin, they say they found the stolen 2002 GMC Sierra, which they say was hidden in a wooded area.
Once inside the residence, officers found a single-shot 20-gauge shotgun on the kitchen table with multiple rounds spilled about. They say they also found an apparent suicide note with blood on the upper corner.
Officers found evidence of foot traffic in the woods, and a search began.
At 4:23 p.m. Saturday, the officers found Anderson in knee-deep water in a swampy area. They say he had fresh cuts on his left wrist.
Anderson was arrested. When asked about the girl, he responded, “What girl?” but later said she was hidden in the swamp under some debris, and he showed the officers the location.
Officers first spotted Alayna’s pink blanket sticking out from some brush in the knee-deep water. They searched the area and then found Alayna’s unclothed body submerged in the water and hidden under brush.
An autopsy showed Alayna died from “homicidal violence,” which included strangulation and blunt force trauma to her head.
The forensic examination showed the girl had also been sexually assaulted, according to the criminal complaint.
Members of Alayna's family spoke to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Monday about the joy that she brought to all of their lives.
"We called her little peanut; she was always our little peanut," Kayla Ertl, Alayna's mother, said. "She was loved by many, and she always had a smile on her face and a hug for anybody.”
A vigil for Alayna will take place at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in Watkins in the parking lot of St. Anthony Church. Her funeral will be Friday morning at St. Anthony Catholic Church.
Jennie Lissarrague & Jay Kolls
Updated: August 23, 2016 11:02 PM
Created: August 23, 2016 06:23 AM
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