CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Police had their sights on Aaron Thompson almost since that day 1 1/2 years ago that he reported his 6-year-old daughter, Aarone, missing and the family couldn't produce a recent photo of her. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates recommended charges almost a year ago, but the district attorney told him to send the case to a grand jury instead.
On Thursday, Thompson was behind bars and authorities released a 60-count indictment handed up this week by that grand jury. Thompson and his late girlfriend, Shely Lowe, are accused of child abuse resulting in death, along with two dozen other child abuse charges, including knowingly and recklessly causing the death of a child.
The victim's name is redacted under a judge's order and police and investigators wouldn't discuss the details of the case, but authorities have said the case involves Aarone. They have previously said they believe Aarone may have been dead for 18 months before he reported her missing on Nov. 14, 2005.
The indictment estimates Aarone's death at sometime between May 2002 and August 2004. It doesn't specifically says how she died, but the most serious charge covers a pattern of conduct that resulted in malnourishment, lack of proper medical care, cruel punishment and mistreatment, or an accumulation of injuries that resulted in death.
"We've been very taken by the story of Aarone," said Oates. He said the reasons why lie in evidence, which he said he couldn't discuss.
District Attorney Carol Chambers said not all the counts relate to Aarone, whose body has not been found.
Thompson and Lowe lived together with their blended family of seven other children and Lowe's brother. They're also accused of seven counts of encouraging a minor to lie to authorities over a three year period stretching from before Aarone disappearance to April 2007.
Thompson, who was arrested Wednesday soon after the indictment was issued, has denied involvement in Aarone's disappearance.
He made his first court appearance Thursday, his hands shackled to a chain around his waist and showing little emotion as lawyers discussed who would represent him and what information would be made public.
Thompson told police that Aarone became upset and left the family's home in the Denver suburb of Aurora when he refused to let her have a cookie. That was two weeks before her seventh birthday. Dozens of officers and volunteers searched fields and went door-to-door looking for her, but within three days police stopped the search, saying they believed the little girl had been dead for some time.
The family's most recent picture of Aarone was taken when she was 4 1/2 years old. She wasn't enrolled in school and neighbors didn't recall ever seeing her. Aarone's biological mother, who lives in Michigan, told police she hadn't seen her daughter since 2001 after a bitter split with Aaron Thompson.
Thompson and Lowe's other children were taken into state custody and the courts have refused to return them to him.
Chambers said the evidence backing up the counts were removed from the indictment partly to protect the children and partly to avoid heavy news coverage that could force the case to be moved if it goes to trial.
Asked why the grand jury did not return a murder charge, Chambers said, "We charge what the evidence supports."
Oates said media reports that the case was stalled during the last year and a half were exaggerated.
"Despite all the criticism, we sat there quietly and did our job and we got it done," said Oates, standing next to an enlarged version of the photo of Aarone that her family provided during the search.
Oates said copies of that photo and a computer generated one showing what she would have looked like at age 7 were posted throughout the police department, including in the cubicles of the detectives who worked on the case. He said they helped motivate officers during what he said was a complex case.