CLAYTON, N.J. (AP) — Two teenage brothers charged with killing a 12-year-old girl who disappeared while riding her bike left behind evidence in their house, and one wrote a Facebook post that led their mother to call police, authorities said.
After a 48-hour search for Autumn Pasquale, investigators found her body stuffed into a recycling bin behind a vacant house next to the one where the boys lived with their family.
They were led there by a tip from the boys’ mother, who prosecutors said was so concerned by a Facebook posting one of them made. Authorities would not say what the post said and it appeared not to be publicly available by Tuesday evening.
And when crime scene investigators went through the family’s home, they said they found the girl’s bike, backpack and other belongings.
The boys themselves were in plain sight at points in the intense search for Autumn. Several people in town said they saw them both at the vigil held Monday night in hopes that she would be found while allegedly knowing exactly where she was.
Authorities have not released the names of the brothers, who are 15 and 17, because they’re charged as juveniles. But Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton said it’s likely he’ll ask that their case be moved to adult court.
Both turned themselves in Tuesday and were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, disposing of a body, tampering with evidence and theft. The younger boy is also charged with luring. Dalton said he persuaded the biking-obsessed Autumn to come to his home so they could trade BMX bike parts, and that the brothers stole her prized bike.
The boys’ family could not be reached. Authorities said they were represented by public defenders, but the Gloucester County Public Defender office was closed shortly after charges were announced Tuesday afternoon and no one there could be reached.
The arrests brought to an end a grueling and emotional chapter in a horror for a rural town of 8,000 about 25 miles south of Philadelphia.
“I know a lot of you are angry over what has happened, and deservedly you have a right to be angry,” Dalton said at day’s end. “I hope today there is some measure of closure, and we can all mourn in the loss of this beautiful child.”
On Tuesday night, more than tearful 600 residents gathered at Clayton Baptist Church for an hour-long healing service.
The suspects and the victim all have families with deep roots in the town.
Beverly Davis said she went to school with both the boys’ mother and the girl’s father. And 76-year-old Naomi Sampson, who lives about a block from the boys says that Autumn’s father, postal worker Anthony Pasquale, used to deliver mail in their part of town.
Hundreds of volunteers — many from the town — joined the search for Autumn after she was reported missing.
After word got out late Monday and early Tuesday that her body had been found, the fears only ran deeper.
“We all thought that he was some creep luring children,” said Joyce Fisher, who lives across the street from the boys who were charged and was a volunteer searcher who went to neighboring communities in search of a girl who was found a few hundred feet from her home.
But when the arrests were announced, the emotions changed again: Those charged were people known in the town, longtime neighbors.
Philip Wames, another neighbor, said he was conflicted. “It’s almost like a relief that it’s not some creepo,” he said.
The boys are expected in court for a detention hearings Friday.
Associated Press photographer Mel C. Evans contributed to this report.
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