Missouri K-8 school football coach Craig Michael Wood was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder for the death of a 10-year-old girl. Dan Patterson, Greene County’s Prosecuting Attorney, filed charges Wednesday afternoon. In addition to the murder charge, Wood has also been charged with armed criminal action and kidnapping charges. Patterson revealed that Hailey Owens had been murdered with a shot to the head.
As horrified Springfield residents watched, fourth-grader Hailey was abducted just blocks away from her home while walking home from her friend’s house Tuesday evening at approximately 5:30 p.m. Onlookers report that Wood initially pulled up next to Hailey and asked her for directions. She ignored him until he opened his door and motioned to her to approach him. As she came near, Wood pulled her into his truck while a neighbor unsuccessfully attempted to pull Hailey back. The witnesses called 911 with the license plate number of the 2008 gold Ford truck. Ricky Riggins of Springfield told the Springfield News-Leader that he had pursued the truck in his car, but was unable to catch up with it.
Amber alerts were issued in Missouri and neighboring states in an attempt to find Wood and Hailey. Police were able to locate the truck’s registered owner, Wood’s father, who identified his son as the likely driver. When police arrested Wood on Tuesday night after only three hours since the abduction, he was inside of a truck which was parked outside of his Ash Grove home. According to a probable cause statement which was released on Wednesday, Wood, 45, had a roll of duct tape in his hands which he threw into the truck bed as police approached him. Later that night, while in police custody, Wood offered two different stories for his whereabouts that day. Police officers did a cursory search of Wood’s home that night in an attempt to find Hailey, and noticed a strong smell of bleach that got stronger as they approached the basement, where the still-damp floor had recently been washed.
After obtaining a search warrant, police re-entered the home and found Hailey’s body inside of two garbage bags, placed in a storage tote with another storage tote on top of that.
Craig Michael Wood was a seventh-grade football coach and an assistant coach for boys’ basketball at Pleasant View School and also worked as a teacher’s aide supervising students serving in-school suspensions. Although the school teaches grades K-8, Hailey did not attend Pleasant View and it appears as though Wood and she were strangers. The superintendent for the Springfield, Missouri, district, Norm Ridder, said that Wood had worked for the district since August 1998, when he had been a temporary substitute teacher until his full-time hire in 2006. He was suspended upon his arrest and will remain so now that he has been charged with the murder of the young girl.
District spokesperson Teresa Bledsoe said that the Springfield district screens its applicants much more rigorously than state law requires. Wood passed screening tests which would reveal if he had a criminal background or any proven child abuse or neglect allegations against him. Woods criminal history is negligent. He was fined $100 in 1990 for possession of a controlled substance and was convicted of a felony in 2001 for poaching.
Although authorities cannot confirm that the girl’s body found is Owens until after an autopsy is performed, the Chief of Police for Springfield, Missouri, Paul Williams, stated that “we have a high degree of confidence” that the body is correctly identified as Hailey. For his part, K-8 school coach Craig Michael Wood has offered no information or any clue of a possible motive since he was arrested and charged with the murder of Hailey Owens.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Kansas City Star