Two teenage brothers were charged with murdering 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale after luring her into their house so they could steal parts from her BMX bicycle, authorities said today.
Autumn, whose body was found stuffed in a household recycling bin late Monday night after she vanished over the weekend, was promised parts for her bike by the two, authorities said, but the teenagers were really plotting to steal parts from her model.
The stunning development in the case came after the boys’ own mother turned them in when she noticed a suspicious posting on one of her son’s Facebook pages, Gloucester County prosecutor Sean Dalton said at a news conference.
The brothers, aged 15 and 17, have been charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, disposing of a body, theft, as well as tampering with a body.
Police also revealed they believe Autumn was killed by strangulation, and there were no signs of sexual assault. Dalton added Autumn, who was riding her bike at the time she disappeared was lured to the boys’ house, where belongings including her bicycle were found.
Three teenage brothers live at the home, neighbouring teens told the Associated Press. Neither of the two arrested were named by Dalton.
The house was a place where teens frequently hung out and had parties, some neighbors said, and one of the brothers often bought and sold BMX bicycle parts, the teenagers said.
Autumn’s body was found around 10 p.m. Monday in the bin just blocks from her house and from Borough Hall, where thousands of people gathered earlier in the evening for a tearful candlelight vigil to pray for her safe return.
‘The search for Autumn is over,’ Dalton said Tuesday. He called Clayton a safe community but said parents should continue to keep close watch on their children.
An autopsy released today revealed that Autumn died from ‘blunt force trauma, consistent with strangulation,’ Dalton said.
Members of the town had spent long hours searching for Autumn. The girl’s great-uncle, Paul Spadofora, thanked the community for its help in the search. The victim’s parents did not attend the vigil.
‘There’s evil everywhere, even in the small town of Clayton,’ Spadofora said.
Crime scene investigators arrived shortly before 9 a.m. in the neighborhood where the body was found.
But Tuesday was trash collection day, and many residents had dragged their trash cans and recycling bins to the curb the night before. The covered recycling bins are collected by an automated truck that picks them up and dumps the contents into the back.
Police barricaded the block, and friends and neighbors came by to see.
Some mothers said they were keeping their kids out of school for the day.
Even before the body was found, students reported that Spirit Week had been canceled because of the sorrow.
One young man rode a bike up, sat on a porch of a home and cried, then biked away.
Clayton Mayor Thomas Bianco walked to the scene, cried, hugged a police officer and gave a brief statement to the gathered reporters.
‘You hear about it in other places but never think it would happen in our little town,’ he said.
Howard Kowgill, 60, who lives in town and, like many, knows members of Autumn’s family, said the discovery of the body changes the nature of the town.
‘Until they find out who did it, you don’t let your kids out,’ he said.
Autumn was reported missing from her home on Saturday evening, and had been the subject of a large search over the last two days until her body was found last night.
An autopsy to further confirm the body’s identity will be conducted this morning by the Gloucester County Medical Examiner’s office.