By John Coyne
A man accused of killing a 9-year-old neighbor and hiding her body in a trash bin had been building a snowman with her just hours before she was reported missing, investigators said Monday.
Jerrod Metsker, 24, was the last person seen with the girl at the trailer park where they lived, a sheriff’s investigator said. He later joined neighbors and relatives in a search for her, a neighbor said.
Metsker was arrested Sunday, about 12 hours after deputies found second-grader Reann Murphy’s body. A judge ordered him held in jail on a $1 million bond after his appearance in court on an aggravated-murder charge.
Investigators with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office described Metsker as a family friend and neighbor. Capt. Douglas Hunter said Metsker has a “diminished mental capacity,” but he wouldn’t release information about a specific diagnosis.
People who live in the trailer park said Metsker would play outside with the neighborhood children and built a playhouse out of blankets alongside his home, where he’d spend time with youngsters less than half his age.
Reann and her mother had just moved into the trailer park a few months ago around the beginning of the school year, relatives said. They lived in an apartment above a maintenance garage at the park outside Smithville, 30 miles southwest of Akron.
The girl’s mother was at work Saturday afternoon while she was at home with her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Hunter said. She went outside to play in the snow and was with several other children in the trailer park’s courtyard, but the others went home, leaving Metsker alone with her, he said.
Reann was reported missing Saturday evening, about two hours after she was last seen with Metsker, Hunter said. Police officers, firefighters and neighbors went door to door looking for her. Her body was found buried under trash five hours after she was reported missing.
Metsker took part in the search, neighbor Judy Jarvis said.
Authorities spoke with Metsker soon after at the trailer home he shared with his mother, but he wasn’t arrested until Sunday afternoon, Hunter said.
Preliminary autopsy results showed the girl likely had been strangled with an unknown object, county coroner Dr. Amy Jolliff said.
Metsker’s mother and sister refused to comment publicly on Monday and referred questions to a county public defender appointed to represent Metsker, who’s unemployed. Attorney John Johnson Jr. said he couldn’t discuss the case.
Metsker appeared for his arraignment Monday before a Wayne County municipal court judge via video from jail. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 23. County prosecutor Daniel Lutz said the case could go to a grand jury on Friday if the evidence is processed in time.
Authorities haven’t offered a possible motive for the girl’s killing. Lutz said a coroner will determine the cause of her death, but she wasn’t shot or stabbed.
“The charges that we ultimately bring will clarify what we think the motive was,” Lutz said.
Relatives said Reann lived with her mother but also spent time with her father and his family. They said she loved to play outside and described her as a tomboy.
“She was a little firecracker, always ready to wrestle and play,” her cousin Paula Watts said. “She wasn’t into girlie stuff. Last Christmas, she said she wanted some girlie stuff. I don’t know if she ever wore the makeup we got her.”
Reann’s father, Richard Murphy, broke down crying at a vigil Sunday night.
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me ... this is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” Murphy said. “She saved my life. I wish I could trade her places.”