BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. (KSNV MyNews3.com & AP) –
The Mohave County medical examiner said Friday that the girl found in a shallow grave Wednesday died of asphyxiation by strangulation.
Isabella “Bella” Grogan-Cannella, 8, was discovered Wednesday by a tracking unit with the Mohave County Search and Rescue Team near Chaparral and Newberry drives, close to her residence.
Justin James Rector, 26, of Bullhead City was arrested on charges of kidnapping and first-degree murder. He was described in the police report as a friend of Tania Grogan, Isabella's mother.
The girl's family discovered her missing early Tuesday. Police found no signs of a scuffle or forced entry into the residence on Lakeside.
The medical examiner did not say whether Bella was a victim of sexual assault. The investigation is ongoing.
Court records indicate Rector has a lengthy criminal record involving a dozen cases in the Bullhead City area between 2006 and 2014. His convictions included disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal damage, aggravated assault, assault, and criminal trespassing.
Isabella was discovered wearing the same green, ruffled, sparkly tank top she had on when she was last seen. However, authorities said she didn't have any clothing on her lower half and they are looking into whether she was the victim of sexual assault.
Rector was charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder in her death.
Authorities described him as a family friend who was staying at Isabella's home at the time she disappeared. He is being held without bond.
Meanwhile, teachers and administrators at the schools Isabella attended remembered her as friendly, loving, obedient, beautiful and inquisitive.
Diamondback Elementary School Principal Martin Muecke told the Mohave Daily News
that Isabella paid close attention to detail when crafting sentences. Her second-grade teacher, Kaycee Larson, said Isabella's favorite subjects were English, language arts and writing.
Desert Valley Elementary School Principal Cynthia Cochran said it's unfortunate others won't get to know Isabella.
"I think anyone who has children or who works with children is devastated by this tragedy," Cochran told the newspaper in Bullhead City, which is on the Arizona-Nevada border about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas.
Police said they aren't ruling out additional charges or arrests in their investigation into Isabella's disappearance and death.
According to court records, Isabella's mother wasn't home when her daughter went missing. The mother, Tania Grogan, and her boyfriend, Ralph Folster, were at Wal-Mart. Grogan told Isabella and her 10-year-old sister to lie down in bed and watch a movie. Folster's mother was home with the children, according to court records.
Folster called 911 around 1:30 a.m. PDT Tuesday to report Isabella missing. In the recording released Friday, he said Grogan was distraught over her daughter's disappearance and that he had "not the slightest clue" where she might be.
Bullhead City Police Chief Brian Williamson said Thursday that the state Department of Child Safety is involved but did not elaborate.