A Minnesota man was arrested after police say he kidnapped and murdered his co-worker’s 5-year-old daughter, stealing her father’s pickup truck to abduct the child during an overnight stay with the family.
Kayla Ertl put her daughter Alayna to bed in their Watkins home at about 2 a.m. Saturday and when she checked on her little girl six hours later, she was gone, according to an Amber Alert issued by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Also missing from the home was Zachary Todd Anderson, 25, a co-worker of Alayna’s dad, Matt Ertl.
Anderson occasionally stayed with the family, but was nowhere to be found when the search for little Alayna began, officials said. Also missing was Matt Ertl’s pickup truck, officials said.
“[Anderson] had previously been up to that residence and spent a night here and there — so he’s not a stranger and not new to the residence, but was just there for the night,” Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze told reporters Saturday night.
Authorities pinged Matt Ertl’s cellphone at 9 a.m., since it had been in his truck when it was allegedly taken, but the device was turned off shortly thereafter, cops said.
Investigators later located the 2002 GMC Sierra pickup on rural property owned by Anderson’s family in Cass County, about 80 miles north of the Ertl home, a statement by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said.
After Anderson was found at about 4:30 p.m. on the property, he told investigators how to find the child’s body.
Eight hours after she vanished, Alayna’s remains were found in a wooded, swampy area, officials said.
Alayna’s cause of death was not immediately available. A preliminary autopsy said she died of homicidal violence.
“We have no known predatory sexual offender information on him or anything like that,” Cruze told reporters. “We have no known motive. We are at a loss as to why this happened at this time.”
Loved ones were also unable to make sense of the murder, offering what little they could to the little girl’s devastated parents.
“Tears won’t stop and my prayers are constant for you,” one friend wrote on Facebook.
“May god grant us all the strength to get through this. She was the sweetest little girl I've ever met we will miss her so much. She will never be forgotten,” another friend wrote on a GoFundMe page created to offset funeral costs.
The page had raised more than $17,000 by Monday.
The little girl will be mourned at the Ertl Funeral Home, which is run by Matt Ertl’s second cousin Tom Ertl, in downtown Watkins, the Star Tribune in Minnesota reported.
“It’s senseless,” Tom Ertl said of the little girl’s killing.
Anderson was being held without bail in the Crow Wing County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and kidnapping on Monday, online records show.
He is expected to be arraigned early this week, authorities said.