5-year-old Minnesota girl died of homicidal violence after AMBER Alert

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner confirmed the 5-year-old Watkins, Minnesota girl who was kidnapped from her home early Saturday morning died of homicidal violence.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, , Meeker County sheriff’s deputies received a report of a missing child. The parents told deputies their daughter, Alayna Jeanne Ertl, had been put to bed at 2 a.m. and that at 8 a.m. both she and a guest who had spent the night, Zachary Anderson, 25, of Coon Rapids, were gone. Alayna’s father’s white GMC Sierra truck was also missing, with his cell phone inside.

An AMBER Alert for Alayna Ertl was issued at 1:12 p.m. on Saturday. Cass County sheriff’s deputies located the stolen vehicle on property owned by Anderson’s family in rural Cass County. No one was inside the vehicle or a cabin on the property.

Law enforcement officials located Anderson at approximately 4:24 p.m. in a wooded area about a quarter mile from the cabin on Iroquois Trail Loop Southwest. Anderson was unarmed.

Information provided by the suspect helped lead authorities to Ertl’s remains in a "swampy wooded area" a few hundred yards from the cabin. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Anderson is in custody in the Crow Wing County Jail on pending murder and kidnapping charges. He is expected to make his first court appearance  in Cass County District Court on Monday or Tuesday. 

The incident remains under investigation. Anyone who encountered Anderson or the stolen vehicle on Saturday is asked to call 320-693-5400.