Authorities say a man admitted to killing a 6-year-old boy early Thursday morning outside of Fulton.
Scottie A. Willet, 27, is facing charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of the boy, Dayne Hathman, according to online court records. Willet is being held on a $1 million cash bond.
Authorities took Willet into custody as a person of interest for the death early Thursday morning and found a Hi-point .40 caliber gun on him.
Willet was a friend of Hathman's family. He had been staying at the home of the boy's mother, Ladaynea Simpson, since January, Callaway County Sheriff Dennis Crane told the media during a press conference Thursday.
There is no romantic relationship between Willet and Simpson, Crane said. Willet previously lived in Columbia and Sedalia, and Crane could not comment on if the boy sustained any prior physical abuse or if Willet suffered from mental illness.
According to Crane, Willet was babysitting Hathman, who has Down syndrome, overnight while Simpson was at work. She left the home (located on Primrose Lane in Fulton) around 4 p.m. and arrived back home at about 2:30 a.m.
When she arrived home, Simpson believed her child was missing. Willet was still at the residence.
She called her mother, the child's grandmother who lived next door, to inform her about what was thought to be a disappearance. The grandmother called authorities at 2:39 a.m., Crane said.
When Willet learned police and emergency personnel were on their way, he fled the home and took off in the mother's gray Pontiac vehicle, Crane said.
Law enforcement started searching for the suspect, checking conservation and forestry areas including the Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area. Callaway County Sgt. Clay Chism told the Fulton Sun that it is standard procedure for law enforcement to search private and public spaces.
The Sheriff's Office called the Missouri State Highway Patrol at 3:15 a.m., asking for an aircraft to aid the search.
Officers later found the victim at 4:21 a.m. inside Simpson's home in Willet's room.
Hathman suffered from multiple gun shots, Crane said. He was covered and not easily identifiable by police. Crane said that Willet made an "effort to conceal" the child from view.
Because of this, it took police about an hour and 35 minutes to discover the boy. Crane said police originally believed they were searching for a child with Down syndrome who had wondered off from home.
The Sedalia Democrat shared with the Fulton Sun that Willet was located through a cell phone "ping," according to authorities.
According to Sedalia Police, Willet was located and detained at 6:38 a.m. on Thursday in a trailer park located on the 3500 block of South Grand Avenue, the Sedalia Democrat reported. Crane said Willet was at a female acquaintance's home. Willet was arrested on a Pettis County warrant for littering. Sedalia Police Officer Kyle Haywood assisted with the arrest.
"This morning we got a call from Callaway County that they had a person of interest in the Sedalia area. He was actually out in the county. The county asked for our assistance to come out and help them locate that individual. We got into the area where the phone was pinged and located the suspect vehicle," Haywood told the Sedalia Democrat.
Haywood said officers knocked on the door and Willet was on the phone. He came outside and was detained.
"He was kind of verbally negative to us, but no physical altercation took place," Haywood said.
Authorities found a handgun in the vehicle, the Sedalia Democrat reported. It's unclear if the handgun was stolen, Crane said, but he added that it was not stolen from Callaway County. The Missouri State Highway Patrol Lab will review the evidence.
Willet has plead guilty on several misdemeanor charges of stealing as well as second-degree tampering with a motor vehicle, according to online court records.
Hathman was a kindergarten student at McIntire Elementary School, according to Fulton Public Schools Superintendent Jacque Cowherd.
According to Cowherd, school officials were notified early Thursday morning and were able to have a meeting with administrators and staff before students arrived. Additional counselors and administrators were in the building throughout the day and will be again Friday.
Cowherd said a letter was sent home with students after school Thursday. He added that because of the age of the children, "we're going to let parents handle it" rather than directly addressing the issue with students.
"It's been a day of grieving throughout the district," Cowherd said, noting the boy had previously been at a different building. "We're trying to support everyone the best we can."
Former and current employees of the Post Office Bar & Grill have established an online fundraising website to support Hathman, Simpson and their family.
Lynn Wohlers of Fulton is one of Simpson's neighbors, and remembered Hathman Thursday as she talked to the Fulton Sun on her front lawn.
Wohlers used to frequent the Fulton Bowling Center where Simpson was previously employed. There, she would see Hathman.
"He was a real cutie," Wohlers said. "Lovable, and (he) smiled a lot ... He was an adorable little guy."