Two men were charged Saturday with murder and rape in the death of a 9-year-old girl whose body was found the day before in a hillside cave in southwest Missouri.
Barry County prosecutors charged the girl’s 24-year-old stepfather, David Spears, and his friend, Chris Collings, 32, with one count each of first-degree murder, forcible rape and statutory rape in the death of Rowan Ford.
Rowan’s body was found Friday in a cave in a remote part of McDonald County, about 10 miles south of the village of Stella, where she lived with her mother and David Spears. Her disappearance last weekend led to an intensive search by dozens of officers from three counties and 50 FBI agents and specialists.
Rowan had gone missing while in her stepfather’s care, and authorities early on had said he was not cooperating in explaining a lengthy absence that night from the family’s house.
Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly said Collings confessed to authorities on Friday. Based in part on Collings’ statement, the affidavit Epperly sent to the prosecutor alleges that the men took Rowan from her home to a camping trailer where Collings lived in Barry County, Epperly said.
There, Epperly said, both men raped Rowan and one of them then strangled her with a cord. Epperly said it wasn’t clear which man strangled her.
Epperly said he did not know if Collings, who was being held in the Barry County Jail, had an attorney yet. David Spears’ mother, Myrna Spears, said her son didn’t have an attorney yet and would likely need a public defender.
Myrna Spears told The Associated Press Saturday that her son admitted to her from jail Friday night that he had taken part in the crime. He claimed to have suffered a blackout and his memories of that night started coming back to him on Friday, she said.
Authorities have said David Spears had been drinking that night.
He was being held Saturday in the Newton County Jail and was expected to be transferred to Barry County Jail later that day.
Collings’ brother, Greg Horton, 44, said he didn’t believe the allegations.
“I don’t believe he could do something like this. He has three kids of his own,” Horton said. Collings’ children are all younger than 10 and live in Arkansas with their mother, who is separated from Collings, Horton said.
Colleen Spears discovered her daughter was missing about 9 a.m. Nov. 3, after working a night shift at a Wal-Mart in a nearby town. She and David Spears reported Rowan missing later that day after searching for her at the homes of acquaintances.
David Spears initially told investigators he had gone out with friends the night of Nov. 2, leaving Rowan alone after she fell asleep. He said he returned around midnight but did not check on the girl, authorities said.
Authorities said he later acknowledged he had gone out a second time, around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 3, after calling his mother and asking to borrow her sport utility vehicle. His mother has said she watched TV but did not check on Rowan while she waited for Spears to return. He was gone for 5 1/2 hours.
David Spears previously said that it was wrong for him to leave the girl alone and that he initially withheld some information about his whereabouts that night because he was afraid authorities would suspect him in her disappearance.