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Charges filed against family friend in kidnapping, murder of 5-year-old

WALKER, Minn. -- The 25-year-old Coon Rapids, Minn., man arrested in connection with the abduction and death of 5-year-old Alayna Jeanne Ertl was charged Tuesday with second-degree murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of kidnapping and theft.

The suspect, Zachary Todd Anderson, made his first court appearance on the criminal charges, all felonies, late Tuesday morning in Cass County District Court in Walker before Judge David Harrington. Harrington set unconditional bond at $2 million.

Anderson is accused of kidnapping Alayna from her Watkins, Minn., home early Saturday.

Meeker County Sheriff’s Office deputies received a report at 10 a.m. Saturday of a missing child. Ertl’s parents told deputies she had been put to bed at 2 a.m. Saturday and at 8 a.m. both the girl and a guest who had spent the night, Anderson, were gone. The parent’s white GMC Sierra truck also was missing with the father’s cellphone inside.

Deputies conducted a neighborhood canvass for Alayna. They also contacted the family’s cell phone provider to try to locate the whereabouts of Anderson. When Alayna was not located during the canvass, the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to request assistance with the investigation. An AMBER Alert was issued at 1:12 p.m. 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, the BCA stated.

Additional law enforcement responded to the property and Anderson was located at 4:24 p.m. by K-9 officers in a wooded area about a quarter mile from the cabin on the 4900 block of Iroquois Trail Loop Southwest. Anderson did not attempt to flee, he did not have a weapon and did not resist arrest, the BCA stated.

Information provided by the suspect as well as additional investigative efforts led law enforcement to Alayna’s remains in a swampy wooded area a few hundred yards from the cabin. She was pronounced deceased at the scene. A preliminary autopsy from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office indicated Alayna’s death was the result of homicidal violence.

The crime is being investigated jointly by the Meeker and Cass County sheriff’s offices and the BCA.