ST. MARTINS, Mo. – Authorities said Saturday that a 15-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder for the death of a 9-year-old central Missouri girl found in the woods two days after she went missing.
Police did not release the teen's gender or name and provided few other details about the person suspected of killing Elizabeth Olten. Cole County Sheriff Greg White has said the teenage suspect is not related to Elizabeth but was acquainted with her and is from the same area just west of Jefferson City.
Several hundred people braved soaking rain and cold weather to search a heavily wooded area near Elizabeth's home after she was reported missing Wednesday evening. Police found Elizabeth's body Friday afternoon after the suspect led them to a wooded area several hundred yards from her St. Martins house, White said.
"We had been in that area — actually more than once. The body was very well concealed," said White, who would not say whether police believed Elizabeth had been killed there.
Under Missouri law, children as young as 12 can be charged as adults with first-degree murder. But the case must start in the juvenile court system while a hearing is held on whether to transfer it to an adult court. Juvenile court records generally are closed under Missouri law unless a judge grants an exception.
Cole County Juvenile Court Administrator Michael Couty said the suspect was in the custody of the juvenile justice system and would undergo a background and psychological check. Couty planned to request a hearing next week before a family court judge to determine whether the suspect should be tried as a juvenile or as an adult. That hearing would be closed to the public.
Police initially had said Elizabeth was last seen walking home from a neighbor's house on Wednesday night. White said that timeline was developed through interviews.
But on Saturday, White declined to say whether police believed Elizabeth had started walking home when she encountered the suspect. He said many details could not be released to avoid risking the prosecution's case and because the suspect is a juvenile.
An autopsy was being conducted Saturday to determine the time and cause of death.
Police would not say Saturday whether there had been a confession, nor would they describe the teen's demeanor or offer more details about written documents that led them to the suspect. White also declined to say whether calls had been made from Elizabeth's cell phone, which was found "very, very close" to her.
Police narrowed the primary search area after tracing the phone's general location, but the phone's battery had died by Thursday morning.
The Olten family has received help since Elizabeth's disappearance from Missouri Missing, a group that highlights missing-person cases and provides emergency aid to families. Group spokeswoman Ra'Vae Edwards relayed a request for comment Saturday to Elizabeth's family.
"They don't have anything to say right now other than they're working on arrangements for the funeral," Edwards said, "And they wanted to thank the community for their support and prayers."