A 25-year-old Monticello man was captured in rural Cass County in the case of Alayna Ertl, the 5-year-old who was taken from her Watkins, Minnesota home Saturday morning, prompting an AMBER Alert that sounded off on cellular phones and radio stations regionally on the afternoon of Aug. 20.
Zachary T. Anderson is being held without bail in the Crow Wing County Jail after he was apprehended by county officials on his parents’ property near Motley, Minnesota, some 80 miles north of where the young girl was taken from her home.
According to officials and multiple media reports:
Anderson, a Monticello grad, was a frequent guest at the home of Matt and Kayla Ertl in Watkins. That was the case last weekend, when Anderson stayed at the home Friday night through Saturday.
Kayla Ertl called authorities around 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, telling them her daughter, Alayna, was missing. Anderson was also gone, along with a truck from Vannguard Industries, where Matt Ertl and Anderson both worked. That prompted an AMBER Alert, issued by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, some time around 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon (after preliminary investigations and interviews were conducted).
Authorities tracked the truck to family property near Motley, and, at around 4:30 p.m., K-9 officers found Anderson hiding out on the property. Authorities said he did not resist arrest and was unarmed.
After interviews and interrogation, Anderson told authorities where Alayna was on the property. Officers found her in a swamp area a few hundred yards from a cabin on the property. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Ramsey County Medical examiner released a statement Sunday stating the girl died of “homicidal violence.”
Anderson does not have a criminal record to speak of. He’s been pulled over in Wright and Hennepin County multiple times for traffic violations. None were serious offenses.
Authorities “tried everything to find her safely” on Saturday, said Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze in statements to media outlets Saturday evening. “We felt we did everything we possibly could.”
Finding the girl deceased, Cruze said, weighed heavily on investigators and officers involved in the case. “We are at a loss,” he added.
Anderson will face charges of kidnapping, assault and murder, with his first court appearance in Crow Wing County set for Monday or Tuesday, depending on the court’s calendar.
He is being held without bail.