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Alayna Jeanne Ertl Found Dead in Minnesota, Dad’s Co-Worker Arrested

A Minnesota man has been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and killing his co-worker's 5-year-old daughter, officials said.

Alayna Jeanne Ertl's parents told police they put their daughter to bed at 2 a.m. ET Saturday morning at home in Watkins, around 60 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

At 8 a.m. they discovered their daughter and houseguest Zachary Todd Anderson were missing and notified the authorities, according to police.

Image: Alayna Jeanne Ertl
Alayna Jeanne Ertl. Furnished by BCA

Anderson is accused of driving Ertl away in her father's vehicle, with her dad's cellphone still in the car, officials said.

Local law enforcement searched the neighborhood and contacted the family's cellphone provider in an attempt to locate the pair.

After officials issued an AMBER alert, the stolen vehicle was found at a rural cabin owned by Anderson's family, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said in a statement Sunday.

The Perception vs. Reality of Violent Crime in America 2:46

The cabin was empty but police dogs found Anderson in a wooded area around a quarter of a mile away just before 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET), the department said.

Anderson didn't attempt to flee or resist arrest, officials added, saying that information he provided led to the discovery of Alayna's remains in a swampy wooded area a few hundred yards from the cabin.

Image: Zachary Todd Anderson
Zachary Todd Anderson, 25, who was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering 5-year-old Alayna Jeanne Ertl, in Watkins, Minnesota. Crow County Jail

The girl died as a result of "homicidal violence," according to the medical examiner's autopsy released by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety on Sunday.

"We did everything we could today to try to find her safely and obviously that didn't happen," Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze told NBC station KARE on Sunday. "And I know that doesn't compare to what the family's going through, but we felt we did everything we possibly could."

Cruze described Anderson, 25, as a "family friend" who had stayed the night at the Ertl household "here and there."

Anderson is being held in a jail on suspicion of murder and kidnapping. He is expected to make his first court appearance on Monday or Tuesday, according to the department.