LOUISIANA, Mo. (AP) -- A man considered a person of interest in the abduction of a 4-year-old Missouri girl, who was later found safe, shot himself when authorities approached his home Wednesday, police said.
Officers went to the man's home about 4:30 p.m. in the city of Hawk Point, which is about halfway between where Alisa Maier was taken from her front yard Monday night and the St. Louis suburb about 70 miles away where she was found wandering around a car wash late Tuesday.
Police did not identify the man and would not say why he was deemed a "person of interest." He was taken to a hospital and his condition was not immediately known Wednesday evening.
St. Louis County Police spokesman Rick Eckhard stopped short of calling him a suspect. But Eckhard said a dark-colored car parked outside his home matched descriptions given by Alisa's brother, who was playing with her in their front yard when she was taken, 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.
Alisa and her 6-year-old brother, Blake, were playing Monday in the front yard of their home in Louisiana, a quiet Mississippi River town 70 miles north of St. Louis, after their mother stepped inside to prepare dinner. Around 8 p.m., Blake went in and told his mom a stranger in a black car pulled up and ordered Alisa to get in, then drove off.
A frantic search ensued, drawing help from at least five dozen police officers, the FBI, and more than 100 volunteers. 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. Police faxed a photo to FBI agents stationed in Louisiana, who showed the picture to the parents. They confirmed it was their little girl.
A witness at the Fenton car wash described a sighting similar to Blake's: a dark-colored, four-door car, possibly a Ford Escort, seen leaving the area.
On Wednesday, celebratory messages graced church billboards and an electronic bank sign as Louisiana celebrated 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. "What else could we do?"
The vigil had drawn 400 people, more than the town's Fourth of July festival.
Alisa was taken to a Fenton hospital shortly after being found late Tuesday, then to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis for evaluation. The little girl and her parents left Cardinal Glennon about 7:30 a.m., 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."
Angela Reddick, Alisa's great-aunt, said she spoke with the girl's parents and was told Alisa was unharmed and had not been assaulted in any way.
"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.
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 to Louisiana, but a big welcome-home party was planned for Saturday.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)