SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Deputies on Wednesday arrested a man they believe tossed a 5-year-old girl from a bridge into a lake just before dawn.
Fishermen rescued the girl and divers searched the water because the child said her assailant claimed her mother's body was in the lake.
Investigators later determined the child's mother was safe.
"She told the investigator that the suspect said he'd killed the mother and put her in the lake," said Greene County Sheriff's Capt. Jim Barber.
The woman was reunited with her little girl, who was in a Springfield hospital.
Johnnie Jerome Kerns of Willard was being held on assault and kidnapping charges. Authorities would not discuss the relationship between Kerns and the child.
Barber said investigators do not believe the suspect is the child's father, but also do not believe "that this was a random act." He declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.
Deputies were called to McDaniel Lake about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday after three fishermen heard a splash that sounded like a body going in the water. The fishermen went up on a bridge across the lake and, using flashlights, spotted the girl in the water.
Two of the men dove in and rescued her. They told investigators the suspect was on the bridge and drove off when they jumped in after the girl.
The mother had called police early Wednesday after she and the baby sitter discovered the girl was missing.
McDaniel Lake, part of Springfield's water system, is about 40 feet deep around the bridge. Safety railings on either side of the bridge are about chest-height and about 15 feet above the water.