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Neighbor charged in murder of Pa. girl, 9

A 9-year-old girl who disappeared while playing outside her suburban apartment complex was raped, choked and murdered by a neighbor who claimed he had a "whiteout" and just "snapped," authorities said Tuesday.
Skylar Kauffman.
A neighbor has been charged in connection with the death of Skylar Kauffman, 9, above.NBC Philadelphia
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A 9-year-old girl who disappeared while playing outside her suburban apartment complex was raped, choked and murdered by a neighbor who claimed he had a "whiteout" and just "snapped," authorities said Tuesday.

Police found the body of Skyler Kauffman in a trash bin behind her apartment in Souderton about five hours after her mother reported her missing Monday evening. A 24-year-old neighbor, James Lee Troutman, was charged Tuesday with murder, kidnapping, rape and other offenses.

Neighbors jeered as Troutman was led in and out of his arraignment at a courtroom across the street from where he allegedly killed the girl.

Troutman became a suspect after a detective canvassing the scene spotted what appeared to be blood on his sneakers, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said. The detective then searched his apartment and found bloody clothes in a closet, Ferman said.

Detectives also found a pool of blood in the basement of the complex. They later found Skyler's body wrapped in a comforter in a parking lot trash bin, Ferman said.

Troutman later admitted to authorities that he strangled the girl with his hands, according to the criminal complaint. He also admitted that the girl's head hit a basement floor a couple of times, according to police. Investigators said Troutman told them, "it was like whiteout" and that he "snapped."

Troutman did not enter a plea at his arraignment or speak, except to acknowledge the charges. He is being held without bail.

He had been brought to the courthouse in a police SUV and two police officers escorted him nearly 20 feet to its door. He was shackled and hid his face with his hands.

Across the street, a crowd of nearly 50 people yelled at him and screamed obscenities as he was led inside.

Emily Hansen said she was there because she was upset by Kaufmann's death.

"I have a little sister. She's 8, and she'll be 9 soon," she said. "It's real upsetting. She was just a baby."

It was an unusual scene for Souderton, a borough about 30 miles north of Philadelphia that is surrounded by farm fields and newer upscale housing developments.

Josh Piston, 21, lives in the apartment complex and knew Skyler, who lived with her mother and grandmother. He described her as a good kid but "very rambunctious."

The suspect moved into the complex with his fiancee two or three months ago, Piston said, but he did not know them well.

"They were quiet, kept to themselves," he said.

There was an "overwhelming" amount of physical evidence linking the suspect to Kauffman's death, Souderton police Chief James Leary said.

Leary, who told Fox 29 News that he knew both the victim and the suspect, said after she was reported missing a trail of blood was found leading to her body, which had been left in a dumpster.

"Unfortunately this was a terribly violent crime, but with violent crimes comes a tremendous amount of physical evidence," the police chief told Fox 29 in an interview on camera. "There's no doubt the evidence will link the suspect, who is the perpetrator ... the perpetrator and the victim to the crime."

Souderton Area School District Superintendent Frederick C. Johnson posted a statement on the district's website saying grief counselors were available for Kauffman's classmates at E. Merton Crouthamel Elementary School.

"There is no greater loss than that of a child," Johnson wrote. "Words are inadequate to express our sorrow to the family for their tragic loss."

The Times-Herald reported that prayer vigils were scheduled for Tuesday evening at a church and at the girl's apartment complex.