KENNETT, Mo. – Remains believed to be a 3-year-old Missouri girl who went missing more than a week ago were found Tuesday near a series of ditches where authorities say a neighbor is suspected of dumping her body after suffocating her with a plastic bag.
A joint statement sent Tuesday night from prosecutors and law enforcement officers in the area said a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer searching by boat found the body of Breeann Rodriguez near the floodway ditches about eight miles southeast of the girl's family's home in Senath.
"We appreciate all the help and support from the community in what has been a difficult time for all," Dunklin County Sheriff Bob Holder said in the statement. "We are saddened to confirm our fears but glad we have been able to recover her for her parents."
The girl's parents were notified shortly after she was found, according to authorities.
More than four dozen investigators searched a floodway near the Mississippi River earlier Tuesday. Breeann was last seen Aug. 6 riding her pink bike with training wheels in front of her home.
Her parents insisted she would not have ridden farther than the end of the street — and they were right.
On Saturday, authorities announced they had arrested a neighbor, Shawn Morgan. Morgan, 43, told agent Tim Trowbridge of the Bootheel Drug Task Force that he found the child on a ladder in his backyard pool, grabbed her and carried her inside his home, where he suffocated her with a white plastic trash bag, according to a probable cause statement the agent filed.
Morgan told Trowbridge it "felt like it took an hour for the girl to die," according to the statement. He did not say why he killed the child.
He has been charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and tampering with evidence. He made a first court appearance Tuesday, and his arraignment was rescheduled for Aug. 30 to allow him time to find an attorney. He remains jailed without bond.
Several calls to police and prosecutors for more details were not returned Tuesday.
A search of online court records did not show any previous charges against Morgan.
Morgan told Trowbridge he put the child's body in the same trash bag he used to kill her and drove to the floodway — a low-lying undeveloped area along a state road — and threw the bag over a railing into a ditch. He said he then went home and dismantled the girl's bike, which he dumped in the same area of the river system.
The bike and training wheels have been found.
Holder said search dogs, two helicopters and several boats were helping in the search.