Missing Missouri Girl, 9, Found Dead in Sinkhole

A 9-year-old southwest Missouri girl missing for a week was found dead Friday in a sinkhole in eastern McDonald County, a law enforcement official said.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because authorities had not yet made an official announcement, said the body of Rowan Ford was found on private land near Powell, about 10 miles south of the girl's hometown of Stella, a village of about 200 people.

A spokeswoman for the Newton County Sheriff's Department, which has been handling the case, declined to comment pending an 11 a.m. CST news conference in Neosho. The Newton County prosecutor's office also declined to comment.

Stella Mayor Bill Alsop, who answered the phone at the family's home Friday, said authorities told the girl's mother that morning that the body was very likely that of Rowan.

"Ken Copeland, Newton County sheriff, came, and he told her they found the body of the little girl, and they were 99 percent sure it was her daughter," Alsop said. He said Mrs. Spears was "pretty shook up."

Rowan was reported missing Saturday after her mother, Colleen Spears, returned home from a night shift at a Wal-Mart in a nearby town and couldn't find her daughter. Rowan's stepfather, David Spears, told investigators he last saw the girl asleep in her room around 10:45 p.m. Friday before he left her alone and went out with friends.

Colleen and David Spears spent much of Saturday looking for Rowan at the homes of acquaintances where they thought the girl might have gone, then reported the girl missing at 6:50 p.m.

Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland has said David Spears told authorities that he left the girl alone when he went out on Friday night and did not check on her after his friends dropped him off at midnight.

Spears also later told authorities that he called his mother sometime after 1 a.m. Saturday and asked to use her vehicle, Copeland has said. She took it to him about half an hour later, then stayed at his house while her son left in her vehicle for about 5 1/2 hours, Copeland has said.

Copeland also has said that Spears has not been able to explain what he did in those 5 1/2 hours. He has not been accused of any crime.

Spears, who has been staying with his parents, has said it was wrong for him to have left the girl alone.