4-year-old girl kidnapped from Louisiana, Missouri returns home

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by KMOV / AP

KMOV.com

Posted on July 8, 2010 at 6:08 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 11 at 2:52 AM

Louisiana, MO

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---Previous story---

 LOUISIANA, Mo. (AP/KMOV) -- A man that authorities are now calling the suspect in the abduction of a 4-year-old Missouri girl has died after shooting himself as police officers arrived at his home.

Investigators say "good old-fashioned detective work" led them to Smith. After realizing the new clothes on the victim were from Walmart. They tracked it to the store in Troy, MO. With Walmart's help, they had survelience tapes and transaction information that led to Smith's home in Lincoln County.

Smith has no relatives or connections in Fenton, so the reason for the drop off location is unknown. Detectives are still investigating with search warrants for his house, car and cell phone.

"It's over," St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch said of this ordeal, investigations are still ongoing but detectives are confident that they have found the suspect and do not believe that anyone else was involved.

Paul Smith, died Wednesday night at St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Charles, Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Al Nothum said.

News 4's investigative team found a criminal record on Smith that stretches back 15 years.

In 1995, Smith was pleaded guilty and was convicted of sodomizing a 10-year-old in Rolla, Missouri. He served 15 years in prison for that crime.
 
Last December, police charged Smith with receiving stolen property. It is believed that Smith may have stolen a car.
 
Smith recently served four days in jail for marijuana possession. He was just released from jail on June 23, where he was being held on a traffic violation.

Smith's death was a gruesome twist to the story of Alisa Maier, a little girl with big brown eyes who was 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.

News 4 spoke to Alisa's grandfather Roy Harrison and he says that Alisa and her family are coming home on Thursday. Harrison tells News 4 that he is, "glad and angry" about Smith's death. Harrison says he's glad that Smith can't hurt anyone else or Alisa ever again but angry that they'll never know why he chose Alisa and why he did it in the first place. According to Harrison, Smith's death gives Alisa's family some closure and will help them sleep a little better.

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 the 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 handgun and shot himself.

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. One of Alisa's family members told News 4 that Alisa received good marks at the hospital when it came to her medical exam.

"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. A family member tells News 4 that when Alisa saw Smith's photo during our extended coverage of this story, she said, "He cut my hair."

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."

 --PREVIOUS STORY--

(KMOV) – A missing Louisiana, Missouri girl has been found alive and safe. St. Louis County police tell News 4 that Alisa Maier, 4, was found at a car wash off Gravois Road in Fenton, Missouri. Fenton is 93 miles away from where Alisa was taken.

The suspect in this case is still on the loose. At a news conference on Wednesday morning St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch said that authorities will not give up until the suspect is found. Crimestoppers has increased the reward for information leading to an arrest to $2,000.

According to police, it was the suspect's vehicle that first caught the attention of several witnesses. Witnesses say the car, described as a dark brown or black, four-door mid-size sedan, had a very loud muffler and that is what made them notice the car. The car was spotted at the car wash around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Click here to view News 4's interview with Alisa's grandfather

Several witnesses then spotted Alisa and called the authorities. When the calls first started coming in, witnesses said they saw a little boy wandering around the car wash alone. That turned out to be Alisa Maier. Fitch has confirmed that Alisa's hair had been cut, but she did not have any visible injuries when she was found.

After she was recovered by authorities, Alisa was taken to St. Clair Hospital. She was then reunited with her parents and transported to Cardinal Glennon Hospital. She has since been released from Cardinal Glennon and is with her parents. 

Authorities have spoken to Alisa, but they are not releasing any details about their conversation. They will only say that the little girl seemed tired. Police are not releasing any information about what happened to Alisa in the more than 24 hours that she was missing.

Click here to view Robin Smith's interview with an employee of a nearby business of where the girl was found

According to Lt. Col. Terry Roberds with St. Louis County police, over 20 detectives are currently working on this case. Investigators are continuing to look at surveillance video from nearby businesses in hopes of finding more information about a possible suspect.

Roberds says that Alisa's next step will to be interviewed by a specialist.

Police still believe this kidnapping was random, but they are still investigating. Authorities are looking for the black or dark brown, four-door mid-size sedan, possibly a Ford Escort that witnesses reported seeing. In addition to a loud muffler, the car also had missing wheel covers on the driver's side. Police describe the suspect as a white man in his early thirties with short, dark hair. Anyone with information about a possible suspect in this case should call the Bureau of Communications at 314-889-2341.

Maier had been missing since Monday night when police say she was taken from her front yard.  Her six-year old brother told police that they were playing outside when a black four-door car pulled up and took the girl. Alisa's grandfather Roy Harrison says that Alisa and her brother were only outside alone for 10 minutes when the little girl was taken. Harrison says Alisa's brother is the hero in this case, because his description of the car helped witnesses spot Alisa.

Officials with the FBI, Missouri Highway Patrol, St. Louis County police department and the Louisiana police department continue to work on this case. 

Louisiana Police Chief Richard Hughes says that investigators looked at surveillance tapes from area businesses to help in their search. Police requested surveillance video from a Shell gas station at 601 South 3rd street which is near the abduction scene. Police also put up road blocks with assistance from Illinois State Police.

On Tuesday, volunteers gathered at the Elks Lodge at 5th and Georgia in Louisiana, Missouri. Dozens of people turned out to help search for Alisa. Volunteers went door-to-door looking for the little girl.

Alisa's grandfather Roy Harrison says he believes that the suspect was just waiting for an opportunity to snag Alisa. Neighbors reported seeing the dark brown or black car drive down their street several times before Alisa was taken.

Louisiana, Missouri is about 80 miles north of St. Louis.

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ST. LOUIS (AP/KMOV) -- A registered sex offender who shot himself as officers approached him for questioning about the disappearance of 4-year-old northeast Missouri girl was almost certainly the man who took her, police said Thursday.

Authorities on Thursday said 38-year-old Paul S. Smith of Hawk Point, Mo., was the suspect in the Monday abduction of Alisa Meier, who was found alive and unharmed the following evening.

Smith died late Wednesday at a St. Charles hospital.

"It's over," St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch said at a news conference. "There's no reason to believe at this point that anyone else was involved."

Smith was convicted in 1995 of sodomy in a case involving a 10-year-old boy, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol's registry of sex offenders. He served about 11 years in prison.

Alisa, a little girl with big brown eyes, was 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 the 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 abductor. It wasn't a tip, though, that led to Smith.

Once Alisa was found safe, police noticed she was wearing new clothes. Tags on the clothes indicated they came from Wal-Mart, and police traced them to a store in Troy, about halfway between Louisiana and St. Louis County.

Surveillance video from the store showed a man matching Smith's description. Smith also bought cigarettes at the store, requiring him to give a date of birth, which aided in the investigation. Fitch said the video surveillance did not indicate that Alisa was in the store with Smith when he bought the clothes.

About 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, officers approached a tiny home in Hawk Point, Mo., a small community not far from Troy. Smith was spray painting his dark-colored car silver when officers approached, Fitch said.

Without warning, Smith pulled out a handgun and shot himself. He died about six hours later.

Authorities credited an Amber Alert, media and public attention for Alisa's safe return. Relatives have said the girl was unharmed and that she told them she was treated well during her captivity, except for a haircut apparently administered by the suspect, perhaps to conceal her identity.

Louisiana Police Chief Rich Hughes said the town of 3,800 residents had rallied around Alisa and her family.

"A small community, you can imagine how this impacts them," Hughes said at a news conference in St. Louis County. "To see Alisa come back home is great."

Alisa returned to her home with her family in Louisiana, Missouri on Thursday afternoon. She played in her yard with friends and family and even stopped to wave to the crowd of television and newspaper reporters standing outside.

Her great-aunt, Angela Reddick, said a welcome-home party was planned for Saturday.

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

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 a prayer vigil for the child Tuesday night. The vigil drew 400 people, more than the town's Fourth of July festival.

Fitch said law officers continue to investigate Smith's background and whether he may have been involved in other unsolved missing child cases. Among them is the case of Bianca Piper, a 13-year-old girl who went missing from her home near Foley, Mo., in 2005. Foley and Louisiana are both situated along Missouri Route 79, and are about 25 miles apart.

"You can't ignore the similarities," Fitch said.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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