Published November 17, 2014
A 20-year-old maintenance man with no known criminal past was arrested Wednesday in the beating death of a 7-year-old north Georgia girl who was abducted at the apartment complex where she lived and he worked and her body left in a trash bin.
Ryan Brunn, who also lived at complex and had no known criminal record, was jailed on a murder warrant, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan.
Jorelys Rivera was last seen Friday evening leaving the playground to walk back home to get drinks for her friends. Authorities said they believe she was taken to an empty apartment, where she was sexually assaulted, stabbed and beaten to death. Her body was found Monday.
Brunn had keys to the empty apartment and the trash compactor bin where Rivera's body was left, Keenan said.
"We are confident that Brunn is the killer and that is why he is in custody," Keenan said, declining to detail what evidence investigators have against him.
According to a warrant obtained by The Associated Press, Brunn was arrested on suspicion of murder and making false statements to authorities. The warrant said he "did unlawfully and with malice aforethought cause the death of Jorelys Rivera by hitting her on the head with a blunt object." No other details are contained in the document.
In an interview with Atlanta's WSB-TV, Jorelys' mother, Jocelyn Rivera, said through a translator that Brunn "is an animal" who "killed my little angel." She said she wants Brunn to be sentenced to the death penalty if he is convicted.
Blue Ridge District Attorney Garry Moss said he had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.
Steven Brunn said his younger brother is not violent and says he doesn't believe he was involved in the slaying. The 26-year-old told The Associated Press that "the real person may still be out there" plotting another attack.
"I don't know where this all is coming from," Steven Brunn said. "They said it's innocent until proven guilty, but they already done proved him guilty."
It was not immediately clear whether Brunn had an attorney. He was being held at the Cherokee County jail. Lt. Jay Baker with the Sheriff's Office said Brunn's initial appearance in Superior Court was set for Thursday.
Brunn, wearing a blue hooded sweat shirt and jeans, was arrested at the complex and taken in handcuffs to a sheriff's patrol car surrounded by a handful of armed officers. Video aired by WSB showed Brunn keeping his head down and ignoring comments shouted by an observer.
Keenan said investigators focused on Brunn after being tipped off and had been watching him since Tuesday night. Keenan said the investigation will continue for several months.
"This is a mammoth case," Keenan said at a news conference in Canton. "We believe that this horrendous crime was planned and calculated, and we've recovered a lot of evidence."
About 65 local, state and federal investigators worked the case and conducted several hundred interviews.
"Our goal was to make an arrest for what has happened to this sweet, innocent little girl," Canton Police Chief Jeff Lance said.
When Rivera's body was found, it shook the community where neighbors say they all knew each other and a makeshift memorial took root at the playground.
Investigators said valuable evidence had come from apartment residents.
Steven Brunn, a tattoo artist, said his brother "is great with kids" and has no criminal record. He said he last saw his younger brother two months ago. The family is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., he said, adding that Ryan Brunn and his siblings moved to Georgia with his mother several years ago.
His mother, Karen-Ann Whiteley, filed for bankruptcy last month, according to court records. She lives in Dahlonega, about 50 miles northeast of Canton.
Steven Brunn lives in Dahlonega, where Ryan Brunn lived until a month ago when he moved to Canton to take the maintenance job. Ryan Brunn also previously lived in Dumfries, Va. No one answered a knock on the door of a relative's home there Wednesday.
In July, when Florida resident Casey Anthony was acquitted on charges she killed her daughter, Ryan Brunn wrote on Facebook that Anthony will "get hers." His Facebook page has since been disabled.
Nancy Hudgins, 57, who lives near the trash bin where Jorelys body was found, said she talked with Brunn on Monday as police searched apartments. She said he told her he was nervous about allowing officers into his apartment because he had beer bottles and is not of legal drinking age.
"He was just kind of scared about them going in," she said.
She said neighbors were relieved that a suspect has been arrested.
"We're still kind of hurt real bad about this girl," Hudgins said. "We're really glad they did get the guy."
Another neighbor, Bernadette Merrill, 58, said she was particularly distressed that Jorelys had been found in a trash bin.
"When it first happened, I didn't get any sleep," she said. "I just don't see a child being thrown away like that."
She said children often play unaccompanied in the complex, and when the school bus pulls up outside the gate, most children would get off and walk home unaccompanied. The killing changed that.
"Monday, every child had a hand," Merrill said.
River Ridge Management Co., which runs the apartment complex, said all employees and residents must pass background checks before being hired or moving in. The company said Brunn cleared those checks.
Associated Press writers George Henry in Dahlonega and Dorie Turner and Errin Haines in Atlanta contributed to this report.