After AMBER Alert, family friend charged with murder of 5-year-old Minnesota girl

Zachary Todd Anderson was charged Tuesday in Cass County District Court with the murder of 5-year-old family friend Alayna Ertl, whose abduction Saturday in Watkins, Minn. triggered an AMBER Alert. Anderson, 25, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and auto theft.

Alayna Ertl reported missing - 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 20

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, Meeker County sheriff’s deputies received a report of a missing child. The parents told deputies their daughter, Alayna Jeanne Ertl, had been put to bed at 2 a.m. and that at 8 a.m. both she and Zachary Anderson were gone.  Anderson played softball with Alayna's father and was spending the night at the Ertl family's home in Watkins. Alayna’s father’s white GMC Sierra truck was also missing, with his cell phone inside.

AMBER Alert issued - 1:12 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20

An AMBER Alert for Alayna Ertl was issued at 1:12 p.m. on Saturday. Cass County sheriff’s deputies located the stolen vehicle on property owned by Anderson’s family in rural Cass County. No one was inside the vehicle or a cabin on the property.

Anderson's father calls police

According to the criminal complaint, Anderson's father called police at 1:58 p.m. and said "he believed that his son was the subject of an AMBER Alert." He said his son had called earlier in the day and wanted to have permission to go to the family’s cabin located on Iroquois Loop Trail in Motley, Minn.

Cass County deputies rushed to the cabin and found the stolen GMC Sierra in a ravine. It appeared the truck was pulled into a brushy area to conceal its location. Inside the cabin, deputies found a 20-gauge shotgun on the kitchen table, with multiple 20-gauge and 12-gauge rounds spilled about. Deputies also found an apparent suicide note, with apparent blood on the upper corner.

Found in the swamp

Other deputies and police officers arrived and followed footprint to a swampy area, where they found Anderson, in knee-deep water, at approximately 4:23 p.m. Anderson was asked about the location of "the girl" to which he replied, "What girl?"

Anderson eventually agreed to show officers the approximate location of where Alayna Ertl's body was hidden. He walked with officers to the edge of the swamp and pointed in a general direction indicating that she was “over there”. Alayna was found next to her pink Disney blanket. Sunday night, the Ramsey County Medical Examiner confirmed Alayna Ertl died of homicidal violence.

Next court date

Anderson’s initial court appearance was brief. Bail was set at $2 million without conditions, or $1 million with court-imposed conditions. His next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 10.

Help is available

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 800-273-8255. The hotline has trained staff available 24/7 to help those in crisis. Everyone can play a role in preventing suicide by being aware of the warning signs of suicidal behaviors:

- Talking about wanting to die; feeling hopeless, trapped, or in unbearable pain, being a burden to others

- Looking for a way to kill oneself

- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

- Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless

- Sleeping too little or too much

- Withdrawing or feeling isolated

- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

- Displaying extreme mood swings.

What you can do

If you believe someone is at risk of suicide:

- Ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves. (This will not put the idea into their heads, or make it more likely that they will attempt suicide.);

- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255);

- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional;

- Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and

- If possible, do not leave the person alone.