Thousands remember slain Missouri girl with porch lights, vigil

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 23, 2014 2:53 PM

(Reuters) - More than 200,000 supporters vowed to keep their porch lights on through Sunday and roughly 10,000 people joined a weekend vigil for a 10-year-old girl who was snatched off a Missouri street and later found killed.

The outpouring of support for the family of Hailey Owens came days after her accused killer, school coach Craig Michael Wood, said through his lawyer that he planned to plead not guilty to charges of murder, child abduction and armed criminal action.

Owens was kidnapped last week in Springfield, Missouri, while walking home from a friend's house. Her body was found in a plastic storage bin in Wood's basement with a bullet wound to her head, police said.

About 10,000 people attended a march and candlelight vigil on Saturday in Springfield led by Owens' family. The crowd chanted her name during the march, which ended with a moment of silence.

A Facebook page created to honor the girl had more than 218,000 people pledging to keep their porch lights illuminated through Sunday to show support for her family. Many neighbors joined a series of fundraisers, from bike rides to pancake breakfasts.

Wood, 45, was a paraprofessional and 7th grade coach of boys' football and basketball at a Springfield school, according to a spokeswoman for the public school system.

Owens attended a different school, and there was no evidence she was acquainted with Wood, authorities said.

A search of Wood's home following his arrest turned up pornographic images of young children, according to documents released by prosecutors.

Wood made his first court appearance on Friday over a video monitor from the Greene County Jail. He was ordered held without bond, and a preliminary hearing was set for April 7.

Prosecutors did not say whether he might face additional criminal charges, including possession of child pornography.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere and Kevin Murphy; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Amanda Kwan)