The body of 9-year-old Rachel Carver was found late Thursday in Riverside State Park and soon after police arrested her uncle on suspicion of murder.
A patrolling state park ranger noticed what appeared to be debris under some overhanging bushes along Aubrey L. White Parkway late Thursday afternoon. She discovered the debris was actually a body, tentatively identified as Rachel.
Jason Wickenhagen, 23, was arrested Thursday night based on evidence gathered at the crime scene, said Spokane Police Chief Terry Mangan, during a late-night press briefing at Ridgeview Elementary School.
He wouldn’t say what evidence links Wickenhagen to Rachel Carver’s death.
Police blocked off the parkway and set up a crime scene late Thursday. Anyone violating the perimeter will be arrested, police said.
Wickenhagen was the last person to see the girl, who never made it to school Wednesday morning. Wickenhagen - recently convicted of a sex crime - told police he had walked Rachel halfway to Ridgeview Elementary shortly after 8 a.m.
Detectives questioned Wickenhagen twice Thursday, and he left the police station just after 5 p.m. He did not intend to stay at the North Side house he has shared with his wife, Rene, and their nieces, Rachel and her 10-year-old sister, Danielle.
Wickenhagen was charged last summer with trying to rape a teenage girl to whom he had offered a ride home.
According to court records, Wickenhagen held a gun to the girl’s face, fondled her and demanded sex. He finally let the victim go after she told him she was pregnant. He blamed his behavior on being high on LSD.
Wickenhagen later pleaded guilty to a reduced felony charge of indecent liberties.
Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen was scheduled to sentence him May 31, but postponed it. He also has convictions for theft and two burglaries.
In the evening, relatives, who hadn’t learned of the body’s discovery, were gathered at Wickenhagen’s house on North Ash. Jason Wickenhagen didn’t join the family, but he had not yet been arrested.
Rachel’s mother, Lori Beal, arrived in Spokane from northern California on Thursday evening. The girl’s father, Scott Carver, also arrived Thursday from Yakima.
Rene Wickenhagen said police asked her to take a polygraph test today. She said her husband took the test Thursday and was expected to take another today.
“Jason said, “I didn’t do it,” Wickenhagen said of her husband. “He wants to prove himself and he asked me how he could do that.”
Before her daughter’s body was found, Rachel’s mother became tearful as she made pleas in front of television cameras for Rachel to return home.
Beal said she hadn’t spoken with Jason Wickenhagen since arriving in town about 5 p.m. Thursday.
Rene Wickenhagen insisted her husband was out looking for Rachel.
The Wickenhagens were appointed Rachel’s legal guardians and have cared for the girl since October. Her mother still has legal custody.
Beal said she sent her daughters to Spokane temporarily because she was having problems she needed to resolve. One problem was that she worked nights and couldn’t find child care.
Rachel’s father said he’d never met Jason Wickenhagen and didn’t know until last week that Rachel and Danielle were staying in Spokane.
Hundreds of Spokane residents searched for Rachel all day Thursday, painting the city with fliers of her smiling face.
Spokane police officers stopped cars along North Side streets during morning rush-hour traffic, looking for people who may have seen her.
“This little girl turned up missing yesterday about this time while she was walking to school,” Spokane police Sgt. Anthony Giannetto told drivers on Maple.
Over and over, Giannetto and the other officers stopped drivers, handed them fliers and asked if they’d seen anything suspicious.
Detectives also followed up Thursday on dozens of called-in tips about the red-haired girl with freckles on her nose.
The efforts proved futile.
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