A prosecutor has defended the law enforcement response to the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl who was found killed, saying police "poured their hearts and souls" into the investigation and it's time now to start the healing.
Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton, responding to complaints by the victim's family about the initial search efforts, said in a statement that he was proud of the work law enforcement did under difficult circumstances.
The family of Autumn Pasquale accused police of not launching an intensive enough search in the hours after she was first reported missing Saturday night. They also raised other questions about how the investigation proceeded.
The prosecutor had said about 50 law officers took part in the search the first night.
Her body was found Monday night only blocks from her home in the town of Clayton, stuffed inside a recycling bin. Two teenage brothers who live next-door to the property where the body was discovered were charged Tuesday with murder in her death. Prosecutors have not said when they think she was killed.
"The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office's investigative units poured their hearts and souls into this investigation and worked around the clock to find Autumn," Dalton said in a written statement released late Wednesday. "I am proud of what they did under such difficult circumstances. This is a time to start the healing process and let the justice system move forward with this case.
Pasquale family spokesman Paul Spadofora, a great-uncle of the victim, said he wanted the state attorney general to investigate how the county handled the search.
The attorney general's office said Wednesday it had not received a formal complaint but was in touch with the prosecutor and would get full details of the response and review them.
Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said he appreciated the family's need to know "everything possible was done for their daughter."
Pasquale, a seventh-grader, was lured to the boys' home with the promise of new parts for the beloved bicycle she was riding before she disappeared, authorities have said. An autopsy found she suffered blunt force trauma consistent with strangulation.
Authorities say their mother saw something in one of their Facebook postings that gave her cause to call police Monday. It was that call, officials said, that led investigators to the body and the boys.
The teens are due in court Friday for a hearing to determine whether they are to remain in custody. Both boys are charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, disposing of a body, tampering with evidence and theft.
The younger boy is also charged with luring, allegedly telling Autumn to come over to trade bike parts.