Craig Michael Wood, the Missouri middle school coach accused of murdering 10-year-old Hailey Owens last Tuesday evening, was found to be in possession of child pornography when local police searched his home earlier this week. The 45-year-old teacher had a three-ring binder filled with pornographic images of children in addition to several videos presumed to be of the same content. Police also seized a used .22 caliber shell and a hat believed to have belonged to the victim.
The crime took place this past Tuesday, with several witnesses spotting Wood as he forced Owens into his Ford Ranger and sped off. While several neighbors attempted to pursue the assailant, he had too much of a head start and was not able to be obtained. Because his license plate number was reported to the police by one of the witnesses, the suspect was apprehended at 8:30 pm the same night. Unfortunately for the fourth grade Owens and her family, it was too late to save her.
A body that was described as having a “high probability” of being Owens was soon found in Wood’s basement inside trash bags. Bleach was found nearby, indicating the suspect had been attempting to clean up the crime scene. Wood himself was found with duct tape on his possession when police arrived at the scene.
The 45-year-old teacher had an almost non-existent criminal record prior to this incident and had been employed by Springfield Public Schools since 1998. School district spokeswoman Teresa Bledsoe was quoted as saying that Wood had handily met all their requirements for employment, and that Springfield makes a point to run deeper background checks than is required by the state.
Wood, a musician and avid hunter, was described as quiet and gentle by those who knew him, all of whom have expressed shock that the seemingly harmless Missouri coach would even had child pornography in his home, let alone take the life of an innocent child.
In his hearing Friday, Wood’s publicly appointed defender stated that his client planned to plead not guilty to both the kidnapping and murder charges leveled against him. The suspect’s use of a public attorney angered assistant prosecutor Todd Myers, who noted that police had discovered a $1 million trust in Wood’s name and suggested during the hearing that the suspect should be able to afford his own attorney.
As for the 10-year-old victim, she leaves behind a long list of grieving friends and family members. The Westport Elementary student was described as an always cheerful, always happy girl that had a love for singing and dancing, and belonged to an after-school club that focused on teaching children character lessons.
This atrocious crime has resonated deeply with southwest Missouri residents, who have expressed outrage over such a senseless killing. The fact that Owens was taken in broad daylight just mere blocks from her home in front of several neighbors is particularly troubling. While there is no apparent motive for Wood to have committed such a heinous act, the presence of child pornography in the Missouri coach’s home points to the fact that this is simply a case of a child abductor on a random search for a victim. Tragically, he found one.
By Spencer Hendricks