A New Jersey teen was arrested and charged with the murder of his 11-year-old neighbor, who was found dead behind her home just hours after she was reported missing, officials said.
AbbieGail “Abbie” Smith was last seen in her home at the Hancock Arms Apartment complex about 7:45 p.m. Wednesday and was reported missing a little over an hour later, Keansburg Police said.
Police working with K-9 units discovered Abbie’s remains in the backyard behind the low-rise apartments near a large container about 10:45 a.m. Thursday, WABC-TV reported.
"Unfortunately, when they started to dig and canvas this area, they found her remains," Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni told Patch.
The grim discovery came as a shock to officials and residents, who had been hopeful the petite middle schooler would be found alive.
“We were really hopeful that we would find her,” Gramiccioni said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s a punch in the gut for all of us here in the community, especially in law enforcement.”
“I cried,” neighbor Sal Ciccone, 59, told the Asbury Park Press after learning she was dead.
On Friday, police arrested Andreas Erazo, 18, who lived in an apartment upstairs from the Smiths, Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said.
“We got him!!!” they posted on their Facebook page.
Erazo is facing murder and weapons charges and is expected to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Friday, prosecutors said.
The Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office is expected to conduct an autopsy Friday to determine the cause and manner of Abbie’s death.
Before Erazo’s arrest, Gramiccioni said he believed Abbie’s killing was an isolated incident, but stressed the hunt for the murderer would continue until justice was served.
“Nobody should sit still until we figure out who did this to this 11-year-old girl,” Gramiccioni said.
Abbie and her mother moved into the Hancock Arms Apartments about three or four months ago, a neighbor told NJ.com.
The bubbly and friendly preteen reportedly came from a strict household, where her protective mother wanted her in eyesight at all times.
“She's not allowed to even walk to the store by herself," a neighbor told NJ.com.
Abbie was a student at Bolger Middle School, where she was remembered as a “wonderful young girl,” Keansburg School District's superintendent, John Niesz, said in a letter.
“We wish to extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Abbiegail Smith,” he wrote. “She will be greatly missed by the entire Keansburg School District family, especially her friends and teacher.”
Grief counselors will be at Bolger Middle School to help those grieving the loss of Abbie, Niesz added.