The tragedy of the end of 5-year-old Alayna Ertl’s short life began in the early morning hours of Saturday, August 20. It was then that the preschooler disappeared from her family’s Watkins, Minnesota, home, along with her father’s work truck and Zachary Anderson, a 25-year-old friend of her father’s who had been staying the night.
The last time Alayna Ertl was seen alive was at around 2:30 a.m. Saturday. That is when her mother carried the little girl to her bed after she had fallen asleep. The next morning at 8:30 a.m., when Alayna Ertl’s mother went to check on her daughter, she was gone.
By 10:00 a.m., the family had contacted the police, who began looking for Alayna and her suspected abductor, Zachary Anderson. Shortly thereafter, an Amber Alert was issued, begging the public’s help to bring Alayna Ertl home safe and sound.
Unfortunately, Alayna Ertl’s story wasn’t to have a happy ending. As CBS News Local reports, it was only a few hours later that the stolen truck was spotted and Anderson was located. Working on a tip from the 25-year-old’s own father, police headed to a cabin that belonged to Anderson’s family. When they arrived on scene, they found a 20-gauge shot gun and rounds in the kitchen, along with a suicide note, allegedly written by Anderson.
Anderson himself wasn’t in the house. Officers found him around 4:30 p.m. wading in a wooded, swampy area about 80 miles away from the home of Alayna Ertl and her family. He was bleeding from his wrists due to what law enforcement called a “failed suicide attempt.” Alayna Ertl was nowhere to be found.
Officers asked the bloodied Zachary Anderson where they could find Alayna Ertl, and he directed them to the little girl’s body, which was near the edge of the swamp.
According to officers, Alayna Ertl was found nude and abused. A preliminary autopsy report issued Sunday night indicated that the 5-year-old had died from “homicidal violence” and that her death had been deliberate.
On Tuesday afternoon, Zachary Anderson was charged in connection with Alayna Ertl’s kidnapping and death. During his arraignment, more details related to the preschooler’s final moments were made public. According to court documents, Alayna Ertl was sexually assaulted by Anderson. She is also believed to have been strangled and suffered a severe head injury.
Zachary Anderson was officially charged with one count of murder in the second degree, one count of criminal sexual conduct with a person under the age of 13, one count of kidnapping to facilitate felony, one count of kidnapping to commit great bodily harm, and one count of theft related to the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of 5-year-old Alayna Ertl.
Anderson’s bail is set at $2 million “without conditions” and a conditional release bail has been set at $1 million.
According to law enforcement, Zachary Anderson has no known history of violence or sex crimes against children. He was apparently a long-time friend of the Ertl family and had spent nights at the home of Alayna Ertl several times before her tragic abduction and murder.
Whether or not his alleged suicide note, found at his family’s cabin just before Alayna Ertl’s remains were discovered, included a confession or explanation for his alleged horrific crimes has not been made public.
The heartbroken family and friends of Alayna Ertl have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with the murdered preschooler’s funeral expenses. In just two days, the Alayna Ertl memorial fund has raised over $40,000; well more than the original goal of $10,000.
Alayna Ertl’s funeral has been scheduled for Friday at 10:30 a.m. It is to take place at St. Anthony Church in her hometown of Watkins. A candlelight vigil for Alayna Ertl has also been arranged and is taking place Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the same Catholic church.
[Image via Meeker County Sheriff’s Department]