Published February 03, 2012
A man pleaded guilty Friday in abduction and slaying of a 7-year-old Florida girl who was found in a landfill.
Jarred Harrell, 26, was sentenced to life in prison. Somer Thompson, a second-grader, disappeared Oct. 19, 2009, while walking home from Grove Park Elementary School. She was with her sister and some friends, but ran ahead of them after they had a spat. Two days later, she was discovered in the landfill.
Dozens of Somer's family and friends sat in the courtroom for the hearing, wearing shades of purple -- the little girl's favorite color. So many people, including law enforcement, attended the hearing that officials opened an overflow room.
Harrell wasn't arrested until about three months after Somer's death. Initially, authorities interviewed convicted sex offenders within a 5-mile radius of Somer's suburban north Florida home, but didn't come up with any substantial leads.
On a hunch, they tailed nine garbage trucks from Somer's neighborhood to the landfill and picked through the trash as each rig spilled its load. They sorted through more than 225 tons of garbage before they spotted her legs sticking out of the garbage.
Harrell lived with his parents on a neighborhood street Somer took to get home. Police said Somer was lured into the home and later asphyxiated and tossed into a trash bin, though they have not released any more details about her death.
After Somer disappeared, Harrell moved to Meridian, Miss., to live with an aunt.
He drew the attention of law enforcement two months before Somer disappeared, but he wasn't arrested. His roommates in Florida said they kicked him out for stealing and they discovered child pornography on his computer, which was turned over to investigators.
The Clay County sheriff's office said Harrell wasn't taken into custody then because detectives had to prove Harrell downloaded the child porn.
He only became a suspect in Somer's disappearance after the parents of one the roommates drove by Harrell's parents' home and noticed how close they lived to her home. When they saw Harrell's car in his parents' driveway, they told detectives.
The discovery of Somer's body touched off an outpouring of support in northeast Florida and southern Georgia for the Thompson family; days of vigils and fundraisers were held so Somer's mom could financially afford to stay home with her other children. A mountain of stuffed animals, balloons and notes to the family sprung up near a tree across from the little girl's home.
Somer's mother tearfully addressed the media during vigils.
"Somer was such a bright star that never got her chance to shine," her mother said at the time.
Like most little girls, Somer loved to dance, play dress up, draw and color. At her funeral, hundreds of purple balloons were released into the sky; purple flowers adorned her wooden casket and her family wore purple ribbons.
Somer had her brown hair in a ponytail with a red bow when she went missing. She was carrying a lunch box and wearing Hannah Montana backpack. It was purple.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.