MITCHELL — Authorities are working to recover the body of an 8-year-old Mitchell girl that has been missing since Wednsday. Her stepfather has been arrested and accused of killing her.
Investigators announced Friday that the body of Kerra Wilson had been found on a ranch in rural Sioux County.
Lt. Monica Bartling, the lead investigator in the case, made the announcement during a press conference, saying authorities were releasing the information "with great sadness." At times, Bartling and audience members grew emotional in talking about the little girl.
The story of the little girl, described with crooked teeth and brown hair with red streaks, has touched many people and hopes were that she would be recovered safely. Investigators were among those people, Bartling said.
"We were hoping to bring Kerra home safely to her family," Bartling said. ". . . Unfortunately, we weren't able to do that."
Wilson's stepfather, Salvador Lopez, 32, of Mitchell, had reportedly been the last person to see Wilson at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. He told authorities that he had dropped off the girl at a school parking lot. With the help of school authorities, Bartling said, investigators were never able to place Wilson as having been on school grounds. Bartling identified the assistance of school personnel as key in determining that Kerra never made it to school. The girl had been reported missing at 3 p.m., by her grandmother.
Lopez is now being held in the Scotts Bluff County Detention Center on felony charges of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault. The Nebraska State Patrol has only announced the murder charge, but the Scottsbluff Star-Herald has confirmed with jail authorities that Lopez is also being held on the sexual assault charge.
Lopez was scheduled to be arraigned Friday, but the case is reportedly being charged in Sioux County, where Wilson's body was found.
The girl had been at school Tuesday, when she went on a field trip with classmates. The girl's mother, Amanda Lopez, is still being questioned in the case, Bartling said. The girl had siblings, though a specific number or ages have not been noted by Bartling, who are staying with family members of Amanda Lopez.
Wilson's body was recovered in the early evening hours Thursday after investigators from the state patrol and the FBI were notified by a local rancher. The rancher alerted authorities that he felt an area on his ranch needed to be examined. Bartling said the rancher works the ranch, which has been described as several miles north of Mitchell.
Authorities were able to make preliminary identification through articles of clothing, physical characteristics and evidence found at the scene. Due to the rugged terrain and time of night, Bartling said, investigators were unable to move the body and process the scene. An autopsy will be done after the body is recovered.
The investigation is ongoing. Bartling said the Nebraska State Patrol will work closely with the Sioux County attorney's office in prosecuting the case.