Police have arrested a man on first-degree murder charges in the 1966 death of an 11-year-old girl who went missing after walking her little sister to school.

Thuman Andrew Price, 78, was indicted by a Cleveland County grand jury Monday in the murder of Brenda Sue Brown, District Attorney Rick Shaffer said. Price was being held without bond Monday and his first court appearance was scheduled for Tuesday.

Brenda Sue disappeared July 27, 1966. Her naked body was later found covered with branches, and police said the girl had been beaten to death with a rock.

As police led Price into the sheriff's Office late Monday, he was asked whether he committed the murder.

"No," Price said. "Lord, no."

The case went cold until Brenda Sue's sisters, Patricia Buff and Mary McSwain, began pressuring local police to reopen the investigation about two years ago. The Shelby Star published an extensive series about the murder last year that police said led to several tips.

Brenda Sue's mother, Gladys Brown, held back tears Monday as she and her two sobbing daughters watched Price being escorted to jail.

"I don't know why God holds back my tears," Gladys Brown said. "But he does. This is a big day for us and Brenda."

Police declined to comment on what led to Price's arrest, and lead investigator Lt. Tammy Endicott referred questions to Shaffer, who also declined comment.

Price has owned a home a block away from the crime scene for more than 40 years in Shelby, about 40 miles west of Charlotte, but police wouldn't confirm Monday whether Price lived there when the crime was committed. Price was arrested at the house Monday afternoon.

"He is totally innocent of these charges. He wants the whole community to know he has nothing to do with any of this," said Colin McWhirter, a friend and defense attorney who visited Price shortly after his arrest. "I have known Mr. Price for 30 years, I delivered his newspapers."

Price, a retired truck driver who also served in the Navy, is divorced and has two grown children.