A body found late Monday in a recycling container in Clayton, Gloucester County, N.J., apparently is that of Autumn Pasquale, a 12-year-old Clayton girl missing since Saturday night, authorities said Tuesday.
The body was found about 10 p.m. by investigators from the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office in a location that was not immediately disclosed. Members of Autumn Pasquale's family were notified, the prosecutor's office said in a release.
Pasquale had been reported missing from her home on West High Street in Clayton about 9:30 p.m. Saturday. What had been a search is now a criminal investigation, authorities said Tuesday. An autopsy to confirm the body's identity will be conducted Tuesday morning by the Gloucester County Medical Examiner's Office.
"This is a very sad day for the Pasquale family," said Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton, whose office led the search with the assistance of about 20 municipal, state and federal agencies. "Our hearts go out to the family and to all the residents of Clayton who stood together in support of this young girl."
Pictures of Autumn Pasquale's freckled face were everywhere Monday, a week before her 13th birthday, her photocopied smiles covering all corners of a small South Jersey town like the fall leaves, and her father's trembling voice called out to her in the night.
"Autumn, come home," a tearful Anthony Pasquale said Monday night at a candlelight vigil outside the borough hall in Clayton. "Come home."
The vigil, attended by hundreds from all over South Jersey, ended another frustrating day for the family of Autumn Pasquale, missing since she pedaled off from her home. The prosecutor's office said the Clayton Middle School student's last contact was made in a text message from her cellphone at 2:27 p.m. the same day and her father called police around 9:30 p.m. to report her missing.
Since then, more than 200 law-enforcement officers from 20 agencies, including the FBI, were looking for Pasquale in Clayton, a rural, blue-collar suburb 25 miles south of Philadelphia. Dalton said his office had interviewed 75 people, including many of Pasquale's friends and family members. A $10,000 reward was offered to anyone who could help find Pasquale.
Dalton declined to say what Pasquale said in that text message or to whom it was sent.
As more and more volunteers arrived to search for Pasquale and to hand out fliers, investigators had to ask them to stay out of the many wooded areas in and around Clayton to give K-9 dogs a better chance at picking up a scent. A New Jersey State Police helicopter made numerous flights over Scotland Run Park, a 1,000-acre recreation area where she was last seen. Fox 29 said Monday night that investigators were searching the park's 80-acre Wilson Lake as well.
Just before 4 p.m., investigators entered a house behind a Franklin Township, Gloucester County, bar down the street from the lake, where a K-9 dog supposedly had picked up a scent. The owner said he got a call from police at work in Mount Laurel and was asked to come home. "They said they wanted to search my house," the man said.
The man, whom the Daily News is not identifying, also said he could understand why authorities might have deemed him "suspicious." His back window was broken recently, he said, and he also is friendly with many teen girls on Facebook because he has a young sister. The man was prepared to give a statement to the Daily News and to other news organizations, but his attorney advised against it.
Authorities left the home after about 20 minutes.
Earlier, Dalton had said that there were no "persons of interest" in Pasquale's disappearance but that authorities could not rule out foul play. Pasquale's family said she had no history of running away, although one classmate searching near Scotland Run Park told the Daily News that Pasquale was upset over a recent breakup with a boyfriend.
Elsewhere, other searchers said they simply couldn't stand by in the streets, and continued to scour the fields, forests and parks on the outskirts of Clayton.
"Autumn! Autumn!" the men yelled as the sun began to set.
"I don't have any kids but if I did, I would hope someone would be here looking for her. That's why I'm here," said Tom McGuigan, 36, of nearby Washington Township.
McGuigan and other searchers called police when they found a Nissan Altima parked in a field roughly 100 feet from a road in Clayton. Several K-9 units arrived moments later, and a man wearing a Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office CSI jacket told them to step away from the vehicle. The car belonged to a man who owned the property.
"I'm out here looking too," the man said, when reached by cellphone.
One Clayton police officer, who asked not to be identified, said that his office had been inundated with calls from around the country and that units had been flying all over the area following up on tips.
"We just had to stop a psychic from running into the woods," he said, before heading off.
At the vigil, Pasquale's uncle, Paul Spadafora, said everyone was exhausted and unsure what Tuesday would bring. He said he hoped that Pasquale would celebrate her 13th birthday Monday at home.
"Lord," he said, holding up his candle, "Please bring Autumn home."
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