Minnesota man jailed in death of co-worker’s 5-year-old girl

LITCHFIELD, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota man remained jailed Sunday on suspicion of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of a co-worker's 5-year-old daughter while investigators worked to determine what happened.

Zachary Todd Anderson, 26, of Monticello, was being held in the Crow Wing County Jail in the death of Alayna Ertl, whose mother discovered her missing from her home in the central Minnesota town of Watkins about 8 a.m. Saturday. She was last seen about 2 a.m. when she was put to bed.

Also missing was a pickup truck belonging to the girl's father, Matt Ertl, whose cellphone was still in the truck. It was pinged at 9 a.m. in Todd County before it was turned off, authorities said.

Alayna's disappearance led authorities to issue an Amber Alert. Her body was found nine hours later in a wooded area near Motley in Cass County, about 80 miles to the north. Authorities arrested Anderson and found the missing truck in the same county.

"Our suspect in this case is a family friend, co-worker of the victim's father, and was staying the night up in Watkins last night," Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze said Saturday night. "He had previously been to that residence and spent a night here and there — so he's not a stranger and not new to the residence, but was just there for the night."

Investigators have not disclosed how the girl died. Autopsy results were pending. Online court records available Saturday listed only minor traffic violations for Anderson, and it wasn't immediately clear if he had a lawyer who could comment on his behalf. He was not immediately charged.

"We have no known predatory sexual offender information on him or anything like that," Cruze said. "We have no known motive. We are at a loss as to why this happened at this time."

On Sunday, the sheriff's office was referring reporters to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which had no immediate updates on the investigation.

The sheriff said Alayna's death was a blow to investigators.

"Obviously not the outcome that we wanted and when we did learn the information, the officers in the room, you could see ... it weighed heavy on them," Cruze said. "We tried everything we could today to find her safely and obviously that didn't happen. And we know that it doesn't compare to what the family's going through right now, but we felt we did everything we possibly could."
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