Family friend accused of murdering 8-year-old girl from Bullhead City

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by The Associated Press and azfamily.com

3TV Team Coverage

Posted on September 3, 2014 at 5:37 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 5 at 3:31 PM

BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. -- Police confirmed Thursday morning that they have arrested a 26-year-old man in connection with the disappearance and murder of an 8-year-old Bullhead City girl.

Search teams looking for Isabella "Bella" Grogan-Cannella discovered a body in a shallow grave near her home Wednesday. Police said Thursday that the body has been "visually identified" as Isabella. The Mohave County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the ID.

Officers arrested Justin James Rector, 26, of Bullhead City, in connection with her death.

The Mohave County Daily News originally reported that investigators were questioning Rector in connection with Isabella's disappearance after he was arrested on unrelated charges.

Police later booked Rector, who is described as a friend of Isabella's family, on charges of first-degree murder and kidnapping. Investigators were expected to release more information during a news conference.

Bullhead City Police Chief Brian Williamson said the child's body was discovered around noon Wednesday, but he could not immediately confirm that the body was that of Isabella. He declined any questions at a news conference regarding the search for the girl with dark blonde hair and blue eyes.

"I know it's her that they found. I know, I know it's her. I just know," said family friend Andrea Herrera, distraught by the news.

Isabella's father posted on Facebook late Wednesday night, thanking people for their condolences and support.

"It's a loss no parent should ever have to endure," Roy Cannella wrote. "At this time we have no information as to who did this to her ...."

Isabella's family reported her missing before dawn Tuesday from their home in Bullhead City, a city of about 40,000 people along the Colorado River some 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

Investigators found no signs of a break-in or struggle at the home but have not ruled out abduction.

Dozens of police, firefighters and volunteers have fanned out in Bullhead City neighborhoods, nearby parks and river areas to look for Isabella.

"She was so beautiful," Herrera said. "She had the energy of a happy, well-adjusted child. That's why I'm so amazed that something like this could happen."

She was last seen wearing a green, ruffled, sparkly tank top and dark shorts, and may have been barefoot. She is 4 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs about 85 pounds.

Isabella's family told police she wasn't in her bed or anywhere near the home early Tuesday. Her mother told authorities it would be unusual for Isabella to run away or leave without telling an adult, police spokeswoman Emily Fromelt said.

The residents of the home include Isabella's mother, stepfather and other children who are not Isabella's siblings, said police Lt. Jerry Duke. He added that Isabella's biological father is not in the area.

Williamson said about 100 officers and investigators were working on the case.

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