Two teenage brothers were charged Tuesday with murdering a 12-year-old girl who had been missing since the weekend, prompting a frantic search by her small hometown until her body was found stuffed into a home recycling bin.
The boys’ mother played a part in cracking the case involving Autumn Pasquale, Gloucester County prosecutor Sean Dalton said at a news conference. She came forward with information about a posting on a son’s Facebook account, leading police to the boys, Dalton said.
The girl died in a manner consistent with strangulation, he said. She had been riding her bicycle before she disappeared and was lured to the boys’ house, where belongings including her bicycle were found, Dalton said. There were no signs of sexual assault.
Three teenage brothers live at the home, said, Na’eem Williams and Jodie Robinson, both 16. One of the teens in the home traded BMX bike parts, according to a young man, Corey Hewes, 19, who said he was among those who traded with him.
The house was a place where teens frequently hung out and had parties, some neighbors said.
Autumn’s body was found around 10 p.m. Monday in the bin just blocks from her house and from Borough Hall, where thousands of people gathered earlier in the evening for a tearful candlelight vigil to pray for her safe return.
“The search for Autumn is over,” Dalton said Tuesday. He called Clayton a safe community but said parents should continue to keep close watch on their children.
The girl’s great-uncle, Paul Spadofora, thanked the community for its help in the search. The victim’s parents did not attend.
“There’s evil everywhere, even in the small town of Clayton,” Spadofora said.
Crime scene investigators arrived shortly before 9 a.m. in the neighborhood where the body was found.
But Tuesday was trash collection day, and many residents had dragged their trash cans and recycling bins to the curb the night before. The covered recycling bins are collected by an automated truck that picks them up and dumps the contents into the back.
Police barricaded the block, and friends and neighbors came by to see. Some mothers said they were keeping their kids out of school for the day. Even before the body was found, students reported that Spirit Week had been canceled because of the sorrow.
One young man rode a bike up, sat on a porch of a home and cried, then biked away.
Clayton Mayor Thomas Bianco walked to the scene, cried, hugged a police officer and gave a brief statement to the gathered reporters.
“You hear about it in other places but never think it would happen in our little town,” he said.
Howard Kowgill, 60, who lives in town and, like many, knows members of Autumn’s family, said the discovery of the body changes the nature of the town.
“Until they find out who did it, you don’t let your kids out,” he said.
Autumn was last seen around 12:30 p.m. Saturday pedaling her bike away from the home where she lives with her father, her two siblings, her father’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s children, authorities said.
Relatives said they believed she was heading to see a friend, and they became worried only after she did not return by her 8 p.m. curfew.
Sunday morning, her disappearance became not only a crisis but a town-wide cause in Clayton, a town 25 miles south of Philadelphia. Volunteers by the hundred joined the search, scouring malls, nearby towns and passing out fliers.
By Monday evening, officials were thanking the volunteers for their help but asking them to call it a night.
Hundreds of people returned Monday for the vigil. Spadofora, the great-uncle, said he hoped the town could gather again a week later, with Autumn back, with candles to mark her birthday.