HIGHLAND FALLS, N.Y. – A father was charged with murder hours after his 7-year-old daughter was found stabbed to death in the boys' restroom at her small parochial school.
The motive was unclear, and no weapon has been found, police Chief Peter Miller (search) said.
Christopher Rhodes (search), 27, denied guilt, police said.
The body of first-grader Jerica Rhodes was discovered not long after classes started Thursday at Sacred Heart of Jesus School (search) in this Hudson Valley village, Miller said. Her father was arrested that night and was being held without bail, Miller said.
State police said the girl was stabbed more than once.
"It's a horrific act perpetrated against the most innocent of victims, a child," said state police Capt. Wayne Olson.
Blood found at his home was being tested to see if it matched Jerica's, police said
His lawyer said Rhodes loved the child. "I can't believe, for the life of me, that he would have done anything like that," Sol Lesser told the Times Herald-Record of Middletown.
The girl's 240-student Roman Catholic elementary school remained closed Friday, and a police fence encircled the grounds. Nestled against the fence were candles, two small teddy bears and a Piglet doll.
Jerica was last seen when Rhodes dropped her off at school during an assembly, police said. Investigators believe she was killed in the restroom.
Rhodes, the son of a former police chief here, pleaded guilty two years ago to a drug possession charge, which was reduced to a misdemeanor after counseling, police said.
The girl lived with her paternal grandparents in this town of about 5,000 people, next door to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and about 50 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. The village's main street ends at the academy's main gate.
A woman who answered the phone listed for the Rhodes family declined to comment.
Rhodes lived with a fiancee and her son in the village.
Police said Jerica's mother was estranged from the girl and Rhodes and lives in another upstate town. They declined to identify her but said she had been contacted.
Counselors were available to help students and family members, said Archdiocese of New York spokesman Joseph Zwilling.
The town's last homicide was nine years ago.