Police Arrest Stepfather for Alleged Murder of Missouri Girl

The stepfather of a 9-year-old girl whose body was found Friday in a hillside cave in southwest Missouri was arrested in her death.

Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland confirmed late Friday night that David Spears, 24, was arrested in the death of Rowan Ford.

"The stepfather was a possible suspect," Copeland told The Associated Press. "I will confirm that he has been arrested, as well as one of his friends."

Copeland said a 24-year-old man from Wheaton, in adjacent Barry County, was also arrested. Charges had not been filed as of Friday night.

Copeland said Rowan Ford was kidnapped from her home in Stella and apparently killed in Barry County, and her body then was taken to McDonald County, where it was found earlier Friday.

He referred other questions to Barry County Sheriff Mickey Epperly, who did immediately return a phone call.

Dozens of sheriff's deputies and Highway Patrol officers and about 50 FBI agents and specialists had combed the rugged Ozarks countryside for the girl since Nov. 3, when her mother, Colleen Spears, 44, came home from working a night shift at Wal-Mart to find her daughter missing from bed.

Copeland early on had said he suspected foul play and said David Spears was not cooperating in explaining a lengthy absence that night from the family's house in Stella, a village of about 200 people. Spears has said he had nothing to do with the girl's disappearance.

A sheriff's deputy from neighboring McDonald County found Rowan's body Friday, checking on a hunch about the small, easily missed cave mouth he knew about from covering the rural area near Powell, about 10 miles south of the girl's home, authorities said.

The manhole-cover-sized gap in the forest floor drops straight down into a deep cave chamber, less than 20 feet from a gravel road but invisible from more than a few feet away.

FBI evidence specialists worked at the scene for about five hours Friday before opening the area to reporters.

David Spears told investigators he last saw the girl asleep in her room around 10:45 p.m. on Nov. 2 before he left her alone and went out with friends. Copeland previously has said Spears told authorities that he did not check on the girl after his friends dropped him off at midnight.

Spears later told authorities that he called his mother sometime after 1 a.m. Nov. 3 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.

His mother declined to answer any questions Friday about what happened that night.

David Spears previously has said that it was wrong for him to leave the girl alone and that he initially withheld some information about his whereabouts that night because he was afraid authorities would suspect him in her disappearance.

Colleen and David Spears reported Rowan missing about 6:50 p.m. on Nov. 3, after spending much of the day looking for the girl at the homes of acquaintances where they thought she might have gone.