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Teen charged in hanging of 6-year-old girl

A neighbor of a 6-year-old girl who was found hanged in her family’s garage has been charged with sexual assault and capital murder, authorities said Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An apparent stranger to a 6-year-old found hanged in her family's garage was charged with capital murder, authorities said Friday, freshly jolting a community that had been told the main suspect knew the girl.

Pam Gray, who lives behind Hanna Mack's home, said she had seen Shaun Earl Arender walking around the neighborhood after the first-grader's Sept. 10 death. She said she "nearly fainted" when police announced his arrest Friday.

"We'll never be the same here again," said Gray, who has two children, ages 7 and 8. "It could have been our girl. I don't trust anyone now."

Arender, 19, was already in jail on unrelated burglary and drug possession charges. A DNA sample taken from the shirt the girl was wearing was entered into a Texas Department of Public Safety database Wednesday, and it indicated Arender was a possible match, according to the arrest affidavit.

Investigators believe Arender was "in the course of committing or attempting to commit the offense of aggravated sexual assault" against the girl, the affidavit states, but he was not charged with that crime.

Arender was questioned Wednesday, and, according to the affidavit "would not give a statement, but put his head on the table and cried." Two days earlier, he cut himself with a piece of glass while in custody on the burglary charge and was taken to a hospital "because he was depressed," according to the affidavit.

Bond was set at $2.5 million. It wasn't immediately clear if Arender had a lawyer who could comment.

Arrest stuns many
The arrest stunned many because before Friday police had maintained that the boyfriend of the girl's mother was a primary suspect. Asked if Arender's arrest cleared the boyfriend, Navarro County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Mike Cox said only that the investigation was not finished.

Police said Arender lived less than a mile from the Macks' rural home, which is hidden among a web of dirt roads about 65 miles south of Dallas. The girl's family members said Arender did not appear to have had any connection to her.

"As far as we know, this was random," said Sandy Runion, Hanna's grandmother.

Family members have said Dana Mack last saw the youngest of her three daughters sleeping on the couch around 1 a.m. She discovered Hanna's body hanging from the garage rafters hours later, when she was supposed to have been getting ready for school.

According to the arrest affidavit, the girl died "by asphyxiation by a manner and means unknown."

The girl's body was nude from the waist down when police arrived. Among several items reported missing from the home was a pendant necklace that Dana Mack said Hanna always wore.