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Alayna ErtlLITCHFIELD, MN — Police have taken 26-year-old Zachary Anderson into custody after he allegedly abducted his co-worker’s 5-year-old daughter then raped and murdered her.

Alayna Ertl was reported missing Saturday morning when her mother woke up to find her gone. Also missing was Anderson, who had stayed the night at the family’s home, and a truck belonging to Ertl’s father.

“[Anderson] is a family friend, co-worker of the victim’s father, and was staying the night up in Watkins last night,” Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze said. “He had previously been to that residence and spent a night here and there, so he’s not a stranger and not new to the residence.”

Four hours after authorities issued a statewide Amber Alert, Anderson’s father called authorities to tell them his son had called earlier that day and asked to use the family’s cabin 80 miles away.

When police went to investigate, they found the truck parked outside the cabin. Inside they would find a shotgun and a bloody suicide note, but no sign of Anderson or Alayna.

K-9 units were brought in to search the woods and would locate Anderson in knee-deep in a swamp with cuts on his wrist. He was taken into custody without incident.

He initially denied knowing anything about Alayna’s whereabouts, but told police her body was submerged in the swamp. Officers eventually found Alayna’s naked body under water and covered by brush and debris.

Alayna was pronounced dead at the scene. Her autopsy revealed she had been sexually assaulted and strangled. There was also evidence of blunt force trauma to her head.

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“Obviously not the outcome that we wanted, and when we did learn the information, the officers in the room, you could see it weighed heavy on them,” Cruze said. “We tried everything we could today to find her safely, and obviously that didn’t happen. And we know that it doesn’t compare to what the family’s going through right now, but we felt we did everything we possibly could.”

Anderson has been charged with murder, sexual assault, kidnapping and theft of a motor vehicle. He is being held on a $2 million bail.

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