A 14-year-old boy has been arrested after a 6-year-old girl was found dead in the woods near her Indiana home less than two hours after she disappeared.
Grace Ross vanished around 6.30pm on Friday in New Carlisle west of South Bend in the northern part of the state. The South Bend Tribune reported that the girl was found around 8.25pm. The investigation is ongoing and an autopsy was scheduled for Sunday night.
WSBT described it as a “shock” for the town, writing that the local residents said it’s “a quiet, family-friendly place to live with no crime”.
Parents told the outlet that the neighbourhood children play together outside, but one woman was not so sure that will continue after what happened.
“Right at your back door, you just don’t anticipate anything like that ever happening in your area,” Kim Huston told WSBT.
Having lived in the town for 40 years, she described it as heartwarming, adding: “It’s a small town and we usually don’t have much crime in the area at all. I mean everybody kind of keeps to themselves and kids on their bicycles, playing at the park, going to the library.”
She said she hopes that a suspect is in custody will bring peace to the family.
She added: “You don’t realize in a moment’s notice, somebody realizing that their child’s gone and then have to hear what had happened at such a young age, it’s horrific.”
WSBT spoke to another woman who didn’t want her name to be published. She said her family moved to the town for the schools and surrounding community. Her children were eight and 14 years old, and how she allows them to interact with people around town will change after what happened.
She said: “I’m kind of afraid to let my kids go to the park, it’s just little things that bother me. Just hold on to your little ones basically. You don’t know if they’re going to be here or not the next day.”
More than 200 people came to New Carlisle on Sunday to take part in a vigil for Grace Ross, according to The South Bend Tribune.
Her grandmother Kelli Howard said: “She was a shining star, no matter where she went she lit up a room, she’s so intelligent, so beautiful and spunky.
“She would sit on my lap and she told me she would snuggle me until I’m 100.”
She added that she was looking forward to passing on her jewellery to her granddaughter.
She said: “Her hands never got to be past a baby’s hands so I will never be able to give her my jewellery.”
Ms Howard added that she was grateful that so many people showed up to pay their respects.
“It’s comforting to know that there’s still good people out there and she moved this community for that very reason,” she said according to WSBT.
She added: “She would go up to a stranger on the street and be like, ‘Hi, I’m Grace and I’m 6.'”
The principal of Olive Elementary School Tara Bush said: “There are not very many times on the first day of school I already know a student because there are so many new faces coming in. But Grace I knew from day one. Her smile even showed on her mask. You could tell she was smiling all the time.”
Brad Ellett created the event and posted about it on the town’s Facebook page.
He said: “I’m sure there are plenty of family and friends here, but there are also a lot of people like me who didn’t know them. We still care about them.”
One of the attendees, Michelle Crass, told The South Bend Tribune: “I just wanted to support their family. I have kids myself and I couldn’t imagine what they are going through.”
Mr Ellett had not met the Ross family before Sunday.
“I want the family to know, again, that I’m here to help. The community’s here to help. Anything I can do, anything the community can do to help them through this troubled time,” he said according to ABC57.
A fundraiser that was started for the family to help with funeral expenses had raised over $22,000 as of Monday morning.
“I want to thank the community for everything that they’ve done and all the support that they’re showing the family. Just continue to pray for us,” Ms Howard said.