‘Person of interest’ in Mo. girl’s abduction shoots himself when authorities go to his home

By Jim Salter, AP
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Person of interest in Mo. abduction shoots self

LOUISIANA, Mo. — As her small eastern Missouri town celebrated the news 4-year-old Alisa Maier was safe, a man wanted for questioning in her abduction shot and critically injured himself as officers approached his home.

It was a gruesome twist to the story of Alisa, a little girl with big brown eyes snatched from the front yard of her Louisiana, Mo., home about 8 p.m. Monday while her mother was inside cooking dinner. Her 6-year-old brother, Blake, told police a young man in a dark-colored car pulled up and ordered Alisa to get in.

A little more than 24 hours later, a dark-colored car was seen at a car wash in St. Louis County, some 70 miles to the south. About that same time, a child was seen wandering around the car wash. It turned out to be Alisa.

Police followed up on more than 100 leads in the search for her kidnapper. About 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, officers approached a tiny home in Hawk Point, Mo., a small community that sits between Louisiana and St. Louis County. As officers sought to talk to a man they described as a “person of interest,” he pulled out a gun and shot himself.

The man’s name was not released. By late Wednesday, he was still alive but in critical condition, Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Al Nothum said.

St. Louis County Police spokesman Rick Eckhard stopped short of calling him a suspect. But Eckhard said a dark-colored car parked outside the home matched descriptions given by Alisa’s brother and by a witness at the car wash.

Still, Eckhard said there may be other persons of interest and that it was “too soon to say” whether the investigation was coming to an end.

After Alisa’s disappearance, at least five dozen police officers, the FBI, and more than 100 volunteers joined in the search. Hope had started to dim as a Tuesday night prayer vigil broke up and nightfall arrived.

But Alisa’s parents soon got a call from police that a child had been found in Fenton, a St. Louis suburb. Angela Reddick, Alisa’s great-aunt, said police faxed a photo to FBI agents stationed in Louisiana, who showed the picture to the parents. They confirmed it was their little girl.

“We’re just so happy,” Reddick said. “We can’t wait to see her and give her a big hug.”

Reddick said the parents told her the girl was unharmed and had not been assaulted in any way. In fact, Reddick said, Alisa was in good spirits Wednesday.

“The only thing he did was cut her hair to change her appearance — he tried to disguise the fact she was a girl,” Reddick said of the kidnapper. “Evidently this man did not harm her and was not mean to her. She’s doing great.”

Police confirmed the girl’s hair had been cut during her ordeal, but declined to speculate about the reason.

Celebratory messages graced church billboards and an electronic bank sign as Louisiana rejoiced in Alisa’s safe return. Visitors to the family’s small frame home left balloons and teddy bears on the porch and in the yard.

“I turned on the news and my wife and I both started crying and fell down to our knees and thanked the Lord,” Terry Cook, a pastor who helped organize the vigil, said about finding out the girl was safe. The vigil had drawn 400 people, more than the town’s Fourth of July festival.

Alisa was taken to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis for evaluation after being found. The little girl and her parents left about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, hospital spokesman Bob Davidson said.

“They all looked really tired, like they’d been through a lot, but they also looked overwhelmingly overjoyed at being reunited,” Davidson said. “Alisa was sitting in her mother’s lap in the emergency room and her mother had her arms wrapped around Alisa like she was never going to let her go.”

Alisa and her parents were staying away from Louisiana as the police investigation continued. Reddick said it wasn’t clear when the family would return, but a big welcome-home party was planned for Saturday.

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