Two teenage brothers have been arrested and charged in the death of 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale.
Autumn went missing on Saturday after telling her parents she was headed over to a friend’s house. That was around noon. She left on her white, BMX bike, but never got to that friend’s house, so her parents called police around 9:30 that night. Her father, Anthony Pasquale, told us that when she didn’t make it to her friend’s house and didn’t call, he knew something was wrong.
By Monday, the search for Autumn had grown to several hundred people and stretched as far North as New York and down South into Delaware. Investigators interviewed convicted sex offenders in the community in Gloucester County and talked with scores of friends and family members. That night, the community held a vigil, praying for Autumn’s safe return. Shortly after, around 10:30 p.m., her body was found just five blocks from her home in a blue, home recycling container outside a property in the 300 block of E. Clayton Street.The next morning, investigators brought out several bags full of items from the home. Neighbors gasped when an investigator pulled a white bike out of the home; a bike that looks just like the one Autumn was last seen riding.
Friends of the residents say three teenage brothers live at the house and one liked to trade BMX bike parts.
Autumn would have celebrated her 13th birthday next week. She attended Clayton Middle School, where counselors were available today to talk with students.
A press conference on Autumn’s death began at 4 p.m. outside the Gloucester County Government Services Building. During the press conference, officials announced two teenage brothers, ages 15 and 17, were charged with Autumn's death. Neighbors identified the suspects as 17-year-old Dante Robinson(L) and 15-year-old Justin Robinson(R).
NBC10 does not usually use the names and pictures of juvenile crime suspects. But we are doing so in this case because the family of the teens is now talking publicly about the charges.
Police believe the boys lured Autumn to their home, promising her parts for her BMX bike. During their investigation, the mother of the teens contacted police regarding postings on the Facebook account of one of the suspects, according to officials.
"That gave her the idea that her kids had done it," said one woman. "She said she did the right thing by turning them in. She said her heart goes out to the family more than to her boys right now."
Law enforcement used this and other evidence which led to the discovery of Autumn's body and ultimately the arrest of the teen boys.
The boys are charged with first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, disposal of a body, tampering of evidence and theft. Justin is also charged with one count of luring. Both are currently in police custody.
The Gloucester County Medical Examiner's Office preliminarily determined the cause of death to be blunt force trauma, consistent with strangulation. Investigators also say there are no signs of sexual assault.
Clayton teenagers know the identity of the teen suspects and claim Justin "liked" a "Find Autumn" page on Facebook. On Sunday the suspect also commented on a Facebook status from Autumn's brother stating that bloodhounds were searching for the girl, writing "that's good."
Justin, who played football and was involved in the ROTC at Clayton high school, also attended the Monday night vigil for Autumn, hours before his ultimate arrest.
"How could you have the nerve?" asked Dana Halter. "To have no respect at all. As if you didn't do it."
"He was standing right behind me and laughing, smirking about everything while people were sitting there crying," said one Clayton resident.
Many in the community want the brothers tried as adults.
"I don't see how somebody could be so cold-hearted," said Carley Tunstall. "I really don't. This poor girl, she's 12-years-old, she had her whole life ahead of her. And these two kids just took it."
The mother of the boys is a licensed mortician for a funeral home near Atlantic City. Neighbors say she was not at home over the weekend which is when Autumn initially disappeared.
Over 1,000 people gathered for a prayer service Tuesday night at Clayton Baptist Church in memory of Autumn. So many people showed up that some were forced to stand outside.
"This town has pretty much been rocked to the core," said Sherry Mecauch. "I mean you have kids killing kids. It's awful."
Autumn's parents did not attend the memorial service.
Relatives say a public viewing will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Glassboro. A funeral Mass at the church will follow at 2 p.m., and burial will be at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Clayton.