10-year-old Hailey Owens of Springfield, Missouri, was walking home from her best friend’s house, less than two blocks away from her own home, when she was snatched up and driven away by an apparent stranger. Witnesses to the crime recount seeing a gold Ford Ranger driving up and down their block more than once when suddenly the driver stopped beside Hailey, who was carrying a cell phone. The man asked for directions, and when the girl did as she was likely taught and ignored him, he jumped out of his vehicle, snatched her up and allegedly threw her into his truck like she was a rag doll. One witness reportedly tried to snatch the girl back, but was too late. A couple sitting in front of their garage also witnessed the abduction and the husband, Carlos Edwards, got the truck’s license plate number and called 911. Another resident named Ricky Riggins jumped in his own car and chased the truck, but he could not keep up. A third witness chased on foot. All efforts were in vain. By the time Missouri police located the missing girl she was already dead, found in the basement of a middle-school coach.
45-year-old Craig Michael Wood had been a substitute teacher for many years at Pleasant View K-8 School in Springfield before being hired full-time in 2006. An apparently thorough background check was done before he was hired, but nothing prevented his employment. When Missouri records were checked after Hailey’s body was found, it was indeed true that the coach had only two incidents on record: in 1990 he plead guilty to possession of a controlled substance, and later had a misdemeanor for hunting out of season, hardly a tip-off one might find a girl in his basement. At Pleasant View he coached football and boys’ basketball.
Two things may have contributed to the fact that Hailey was not found alive. One is that, according to Police Chief Paul Williams, sounding an Amber Alert is “time-consuming.” Williams defended his officer’s actions, indicating it is within a not-unusual time frame that the alert was not in place until 103 minutes after the kidnapping incident was phoned in. Second, although police were given the license-plate number of the vehicle driven by the coach, it turned out that the truck belongs to Wood’s father, also a Missouri resident, who was understandably shocked to later learn of the girl found in his son’s basement. Police went to the address the vehicle was registered to, and it was not the perpetrator’s. Upon receiving Craig Wood’s address, 1538 East Stanford, police immediately went there, but it was too late. Wood was allegedly found standing near his truck outside his home, holding duct tape which he immediately threw into the back of the truck. After receiving a warrant the next morning the house was searched. A body police are convinced is the fourth-grader’s was found inside garbage bags in the bottom of two stacked plastic tote bins, with ligature marks on her arms and an apparent gunshot wound to the base of the skull. There was a strong smell of bleach, and a .22-caliber shell casing was found on the floor, which was still damp.
There has been no connection found between the coach and the girl, who attended another Missouri school, to suggest why she might end up in his basement. Woods was arrested for kidnapping and murder and is awaiting a hearing. He has been provided with a public defender, and the Greene County prosecutor is considering going for the death penalty. Hailey is described by Principal Gary Tew of Westport Elementary as having been kind and “happy-go-lucky.”
By Julie Mahfood