Published June 07, 2007
A 26-year-old man seen on a video surveillance tape was charged Thursday with premeditated first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping in connection to the death of recent high school graduate Kelsey Smith, who disappeared from a Target parking lot in Overland Park, Kan.
Police arrested Edwin Hall, 26, on Wednesday night after he appeared on a security camera video shortly before Smith, 18, walked out of Target and was forced into a car last Saturday.
Hall, looking tired and downcast, appeared Thursday in Johnson County Court via video feed from a jail in nearby Gardner for his arraignment. He waived reading of the charges until he can hire his own attorney. His next appearance was scheduled for June 14.
Hall is being held at the New Century Detention Center in Gardner. Bond was set at $5 million.
Members of a Texas-based search team found Smith's corpse across state lines near Grandview, Mo., on Wednesday, about 20 miles from where she was abducted. Authorities did not say how she died.
"As I understand she was found at a wooded area, but I can't say whether she was directly concealed by bushes," Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass told reporters.
Law enforcement sources told FOX News that the suspect Hall may have left Smith's body where he did, because he grew up three to four blocks from that spot.
Officers had been searching the woods and lake area in suburban Kansas City since Tuesday after investigators traced two signals from Smith's cell phone to that area. It's believed those signals were from incoming calls to Smith from her boyfriend, who she was supposed to meet that night.
Tim Miller, founder of the search group that found Smith, said law enforcement put search teams within a four-mile radius of where the body was found, based on the cell phone signals. The searcher who found the body yelled to everyone else to "get back" so as to not contaminate the crime scene.
"We were just a small part of a big operation to bring some closure to this," Miller told FOX News. "Kelsey’s not going to be part of our future and it’s a terrible, terrible loss."
Douglass said Hall appeared to be the same person shown in the video leaving the Target soon after Smith. He was wearing a white T-shirt, sneakers, shorts and a goatee. Hall was arrested after being interviewed by police, Douglass said.
Johnson County, Kan., prosecutor Phill Kline said charges would be filed Thursday morning.
"This community has lost a vibrant and promising life and a family has suffered unimaginable tragedy," he said.
Police said Hall's vehicle matched the description of a dark mid-1970s Chevrolet pickup that was seen entering the Target parking lot shortly after Smith's car.
Douglass said there was no evidence that Hall and Smith knew each other.
Kline said his office would ask the state to set bond at $5 million. He declined to specify whether investigators had determined that Smith was killed in Kansas.
Douglass said police had received more than 500 leads on the case from community members, one of which led to Hall.
A family spokesman read a statement from Smith family thanking investigators and community members for helping search for their daughter.
"My wife, family and I would like to thank [the] law enforcement community for all their work ... [and] thank the media for getting out the info about Kelsey so she could be found and all your support," he said.
A statement on the family's Web site, www.findkelsey.com, said: "Although the outcome is not what we desired, we know that Kelsey is Home. Please continue to remember our family in your prayers. We love you all."
Smith was supposed to receive a promise ring from her boyfriend, John Biersmith, the night she was abducted. Smith was supposed to meet Biersmith at her parents' house around 7:20 p.m. Saturday night but he was running late. The two, who Biersmith said could barely spend a day apart, were supposed to go to a pool party, then to dinner together around 9:30. That’s when Biersmith was going to give her the ring.
"She was my fish from that ocean. She was so perfect for me — I loved every minute with her," Biersmith told FOX News on Thursday. "She always said I was wasting gas to see her, I’d say, ‘no, it's worth it to see you.’"
"The last few days … there’s no words for that emotion," he added.
But the fact police have a suspect they’re going to charge helps ease the pain of Smith’s loss, Biersmith said.
"To know there’s a suspect they’ve arrested and charged — it’s great news … It definitely makes it a lot easier, though. It’s hard enough to bear but to know they actually have a face for that crime" helps the grieving process, he added.
Hall faces a minimum 25-to-life if convicted of the murder charge and a minimum 14 months if convicted of kidnapping. Authorities said there was a possibility they would file additional charges.
Before a church memorial service Wednesday evening, Smith's father thanked everyone involved in the search.
"She could walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with a room full of friends," Greg Smith said at Hillcrest Covenant Church in Prairie Village, Kan.
"Her excitement and passion for life was unmatched," he said, fighting tears. "She lived more in 18 years than many people do with a great deal more time."
Kelsey Smith's friend, Eric Hilmer, told FOX News Thusday that the Smith family is showing an unbelievable amount of strength during this time of despair.
"Considering what’s happened, they’re holding up really well," Hilmer said. "They’ve really been heroes in all of this … offering strength to other people in the house."
After Smith's body was found, Kimberly Kincade, 39, was one of only a few people who remained at the makeshift staging area for searchers in the Target parking lot, surrounded by stacks of fliers and cases of water and soda.
"The person who is going to keep us the strongest is Kelsey," Kincade said, fighting tears. "She's up there looking down and saying, 'I know this is bad, and I know that I'm not there with you anymore. I can't hold you and I can't hug you. But both of my arms are wrapping around you, and I'm there with you."'
Pastor Mark Seversen delivered the message at the service. Every seat in the 560-seat sanctuary was taken, and about 200 people stood in back or in the overflow area, reported The Kansas City Star.
“You did not fail. You did not fail. You did not fail. You did not fail,” the senior pastor repeated at the start of the service, the Star reported. “You did an extraordinary thing. You stepped in and you stood for Kelsey. And you gave your energy and you gave your hearts to it and you made a statement about how extraordinary Kelsey is and how important her life is.”
Reading from Psalm 121 in the Bible, Seversen spoke of God as a guardian.
“God is guarding Kelsey right now,” he said. “We don’t like the place where he’s taken her, because we want her here.”
The congregation’s youth pastor, Nate Severson, opened a half hour of prayer for Smith, inviting those gathered to pray out loud or in their hearts, to write a message on poster board in the front.
During a Wednesday press conference, when police announced that Smith's remains had been found, Douglass said his department was in contact with police in Belton, Kan. Kara Kopetsky, 17, disappeared the morning of May 4 from Belton High School. She was expected to walk home after school but never arrived.
Smith’s body was found about six miles from Kopetsky’s home in that town.
"I’m not going to discount the possibility these cases are connected … but I can’t draw that conclusion at this point," Douglass said.
FOX News' Alicia Acuna, Megyn Kelly, FOXNews.com's Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.