A 9-year-old girl who disappeared while playing outside her suburban apartment building 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 the Souderton Gardens apartments 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.
Onlookers jeered as Troutman was led in and out of his arraignment at a courtroom across the street from the low-rise units where he and the victim lived.
Troutman became a suspect after a detective canvassing the building 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 eventually admitted to authorities that he strangled the girl with his hands and that her head hit the basement floor "a couple of times at least," according to the criminal complaint. Investigators said Troutman told them that "it was like whiteout" and that he "snapped."
An autopsy showed Skyler, for whom an Amber Alert had been issued, died of asphyxia and blunt-force trauma, Ferman said.
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 taken 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.
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, residents said.
"The last thing I would have thought is that they would find this child dead. This is a safe little community," said Wendy Hansen, a 47-year-old mother of three girls who lives a couple of blocks away. "We're not going to tolerate this. ... It could have been any of our kids."
Josh Piston, 21, lives in the apartment building and knew Skyler, who shared a unit with her mother and grandmother. He described her as "a good kid" and "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.
Skyler's mother reported her missing around 7 p.m. Monday after she failed to come home for dinner. Police responded and began searching the area.
Troutman's fiancee told detectives that she was home Monday evening around 5:45 p.m. when she heard screams and cries of protest coming from somewhere in the building.
Troutman was not home at the time, she said. When she reached him on his cellphone to tell him about the screams, "he responded that he hoped 'everything's OK,'" according to the complaint.
Troutman returned home shortly after 6 p.m. and said he had been exercising, the fiancee told investigators.
Authorities said Troutman and Skyler had also crossed paths about three weeks ago.
Skyler and a friend were near Troutman's apartment on April 18 and needed to use the bathroom. He invited them in, but they got spooked when they saw pictures of naked women on the walls, according to the complaint.
Troutman then made a lewd comment, and the girls ran to leave, authorities said. Their parents reported the incident to police, but no charges were filed, a decision Ferman defended on Tuesday.
She also dismissed questions about whether the Amber Alert procedure went smoothly. Some media outlets reported a delay in receiving the notification.
"Everyone did what they were supposed to," Ferman said. "The crime took place very quickly, and the body was disposed of very quickly, and I can't say that there was anything anyone else could have done that would have been able to prevent this tragic event."