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5-year-old Alayna Ertl died of 'homicidal violence,' body found in 'swampy area'

The 5-year-old girl killed following an abduction and Amber Alert died of "homicidal violence," a medical examiner says.
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The 5-year-old girl killed following an abduction died of "homicidal violence," a medical examiner says.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension released the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's preliminary autopsy results for Alayna Ertl, but the agency did not provide any additional details about when or how she died.

Alayna's body was found in a "swampy wooded area" in rural Cass County Saturday afternoon following an Amber Alert. A friend of Alayna's parents – Zachary Todd Anderson, 25, of Coon Rapids – is suspected of taking her from her Watkins home that morning.

He has been booked into Crow Wing County Jail on probable cause murder and kidnapping, and is expected to make his first court appearance in Cass County District Court on Monday or Tuesday, the BCA says.

Alayna's body found in a 'swampy area'

The BCA has revealed more details about the child's abduction and death.

Anderson was found near a cabin owned by his family near Motley – about 32 miles northwest of Brainerd – on Saturday afternoon.

According to the BCA:

"Additional law enforcement responded to the property and Anderson was located at approximately 4:24 p.m. by K-9 officers in a wooded area about a quarter mile from the cabin at 4926 Iroquois Trail Loop SW. Anderson did not attempt to flee, he did not have a weapon and did not resist arrest.

Information provided by the suspect as well as additional investigative efforts lead law enforcement to Ertl’s remains in a swampy wooded area a few hundred yards from the cabin. She was pronounced deceased at the scene."

Alayna had last been seen by her parents at 2 a.m. on Saturday when they put her to bed, but at 8 a.m. she was missing along with Anderson, who is referred to as a "guest who had spent the night." Alayna's father's GMC truck – with his cellphone inside – was also missing.

Meeker County deputies conducted a neighborhood search and canvass for Alayna, as well as contacting the family's cell phone provider to try and locate Anderson. When they couldn't find Alayna, the BCA was contacted to provide assistance.

Local businesses and neighborhoods were canvassed and video surveillance images obtained to try and ascertain Anderson's whereabouts, but when that wasn't successful, an Amber Alert was issued at 1:12 p.m.

Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze told the Pioneer Press Anderson was known to the family as a co-worker of Alayna's father, but investigators have so far not been able to uncover a motive.

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

Law enforcement continues to seek information from anyone who encountered Anderson or the stolen vehicle on Saturday at 320-693-5400.

A GoFundMe page has also be set up for Alayna's family to help "ease some of the ... burdens they are experiencing." In just 15 hours, it had raise $14,972 of its $15,000 goal.

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