WATKINS, Minn. (WCCO) – An Amber Alert for a 5-year-old Watkins girl has turned into a homicide investigation.
The Meeker County sheriff says investigators found Alayna Ertl’s body in Cass County several hours after she was abducted from her home in Watkins overnight.
From where she went missing to where she was found is a 150 mile drive.
Officers say 26-year-old Zach Anderson of Coon Rapids took the girl from the home where he was staying as a guest of her parents. Anderson is in custody, accused of her murder.
“This is not a stranger-type situation,” said Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze.
Anderson had spent the night at Ertl’s home before.
“The suspect is a coworker, family friend of the child’s father,” Cruze said.
Cruze first got the call the child was missing around 10 a.m.
“All morning we’ve been following up leads and this has been a very fluid investigation and it continues to be so,” said Cruze.
Multiple law enforcement agencies from across the state and the public got to work immediately, keeping an eye out for the man and child. It was those tips from everyday people Cruze says eventually revealed the unimaginable.
“The body of Alayna Ertl has been located. The suspect is in custody and our vehicle has been recovered as well,” Cruze said.
With that, a Watkins neighborhood began another devastating chapter of grief, rallying around the Ertl family as investigators work to uncover what led up to the 5-year-old’s death.
“We have no known predatory sexual offender information on him or anything like that,” Cruze said. “We have no known motive. We are at a loss as to why this happened at this time.”
A search of online court records shows that Anderson’s only run-ins with law enforcement have been over relatively minor traffic violations.
Although Anderson is in custody, investigators still have a lot of questions about how this happened. Thy are asking anyone who may have seen Anderson or the child on Saturday to call Meeker County Dispatch at 320-693-5400.