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April 21, 2014

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Police jail man on murder charge in Mo. abduction

Updated Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 | 8:57 a.m.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A 45-year-old grade school coach has been jailed on suspicion of first-degree murder in the abduction of a 10-year-old girl in southwest Missouri, police said Wednesday.

Hailey Owens was walking to a friend's home in Springfield just before 5 p.m. Tuesday. Witnesses told investigators that a man in a gold, 2008 Ford Ranger drove down the street several times before abducting the child.

The suspect, Craig Michael Wood, was arrested late Tuesday while inside a vehicle at his Springfield home. He has not been formally charged but police released his name.

Police spokeswoman Lisa Cox said investigators found "evidence of foul play" in the search for Hailey, but she declined to address media reports that the girl's body was found.

Springfield School District Superintendent Norm Ridder said in a statement Wednesday that Wood has worked for the district since August 1998. He is a paraprofessional and coach at Pleasant View K-8 School. Ridder said Wood has been suspended since his arrest.

Hailey did not attend the school where Wood worked. She was a student at Westport Elementary School this year, and was at Bowerman Elementary School last year.

"Student and staff at three of our schools are coping with this situation," Ridder said. Additional counselors and police were on hand at all three schools.

Cox said it appeared to be a stranger abduction.

"At this point we don't know of any relationship between them but we're still looking into that," she said.

The suspect's father, Jim Wood of Ash Grove, Mo., told The Associated Press the girl's disappearance was "a tragedy" but declined further comment.

A records search shows Wood had little criminal history. He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance in 1990 in Greene County and was fined $100.

Hailey's abduction led to Amber Alerts being issued in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. A lead pointed police to a home on Stanford Street, where they arrested Wood Tuesday night. Property records show that Wood owns the small single-story home.

About 30 investigators were searching the area near his home Wednesday morning.

"The search resulted in the discovery of evidence related to this case," police said in a news release.

An FBI evidence response team was assisting in the investigation.

Springfield, with 162,000 residents, is Missouri's third-largest city.

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Associated Press reporters Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Mo., and Jim Suhr and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.