Published November 17, 2014
Those who live in a north Georgia apartment complex where a 7-year-old girl was abducted and brutally killed saw their maintenance man on a golf cart headed to calls. They saw him in the parking lot, discussing the child's disappearance. They saw him as "nice."
Investigators see 20-year-old Ryan Brunn as their suspect in the killing of Jorelys Rivera, who was abducted from a playground and dumped into a trash bin. Brunn, who also lived at the complex, was scheduled to make his first court appearance Thursday after being arrested on suspicion of murder and making false statements to authorities.
The slain girl 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.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan said Brunn, who has no known criminal record, had keys to the empty apartment and the trash compactor bin where Rivera's body was left.
"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.
It was not clear whether Brunn had a defense attorney. Steven Brunn, 26, said his younger brother is not violent and has no criminal record. He 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."
Investigators were tight-lipped on exactly what evidence they believe links Ryan Brunn to the killing.
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 death if he is convicted.
Blue Ridge District Attorney Garry Moss said he had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.
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.
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.
Steven Brunn, a tattoo artist from Dahlonega, 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.
Ryan Brunn lived in Dahlonega 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.
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.
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."
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.