HOMOSASSA, Fla. – A registered sex offender has confessed to killing Jessica Lunsford (search), the 9-year-old Florida girl who has been missing since February, police said Friday.
"I've got my man," Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy (search) told a news conference.
Authorities said that John Evander Couey (search) admitted that he abducted Jessica from her bedroom more than three weeks ago. He also told them the general area where the young girl's body could be found, according to police.
Even after the confession, however, police continued to look for other "persons of interest in Jessica's disappearance." The Citrus County Sheriff's Office issued a call to be on the lookout for three people in a white Toyota.
Couey is now being held alone in a cell at Richmond County Jail in Augusta, Ga., under close supervision because he is believed to be a suicide risk, the Richmond County sheriff said.
Dawsy said Couey confessed after taking a lie detector test given by a polygraph investigator who had traveled to Augusta. After the test was finished, Couey told detectives that "you don't need to tell me the results. I already know what they are," Dawsy said.
"He apologized to the investigators for wasting their time," Dawsy said.
Before the confession was announced, authorities had cordoned off an area Friday near the home of Couey's half-sister, who lived about 150 yards from the home Jessica shared with her father and grandparents. Investigators said Couey sometimes stayed at the home.
Late Friday paramedics and firefighters assisted in digging what appeared to be a large pit behind the home, and could be seen carrying what looked to be large brown bags. Dawsy declined to comment on the activity, saying only that it "will take hours." Police had yet to recover a body.
Couey, 46, had been named as a "person of interest" in the case but was not initially charged. He was arrested in Augusta on Thursday on a probation violation for failing to notify officials that he was moving, a requirement for sex offenders.
Authorities said Couey left Florida on or about March 4, about a week after the girl's disappearance, after telling relatives that police would be looking for him.
Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, has said he has never seen Couey. A sheriff's spokeswoman who answered the phone at the Lunsford home Friday evening said the family declined immediate comment.
The girl's mother, Angela Bryant, lives in Ohio. Jessica's stepfather in Ohio, Lonnie Bryant, told the Associated Press that he and the girl's mother planned to come to Florida soon.
"I'm going through agony right now," Lonnie Bryant said.
Jessica, a third grader, was last seen when she went to bed Feb. 23 in the home where she lived with her father and grandparents. She was discovered missing the next morning, with an unlocked door and a missing stuffed animal serving as evidence of her disappearance.
Couey has an extensive criminal record that includes arrests for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon and indecent exposure. In 1991, he was arrested in Kissimmee on a charge of fondling a child under age 16. Records don't show how the case was resolved.
During a house burglary in 1978, Couey was accused of grabbing a girl in her bedroom, placing his hand over her mouth and kissing her, Dawsy said. Couey was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was paroled in 1980.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.