A first-degree murder indictment was issued Friday in Cass County against a man accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing a 5-year-old Meeker County girl in August.
Zachary Todd Anderson, 25, who had lived in Monticello and most recently in Coon Rapids, was charged earlier with second-degree murder, kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct in the death of Alayna Ertl, who was taken from her Watkins home early on Aug. 20 and found dead in rural Cass County later that day.
The grand jury handed down a 19-count indictment against Anderson, including charges of first-degree premeditated murder and a slew of charges related to Alayna’s kidnapping and sexual assault, according to the Cass County attorney’s office. He is being held in the Cass County jail.
Alayna was last seen when she was put to bed at 2 a.m. that Saturday night. Her mother, Kayla Ertl, discovered she was missing at 8 a.m., and an Amber Alert was issued by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Anderson, who was staying over at the Ertls’ home that night, was also gone — along with a pickup truck belonging to the girl’s father, Matt Ertl. He and Anderson were co-workers at Vannguard, a multistate company that locates underground utility lines.
Eight hours later, about 4:20 p.m., authorities found the missing truck, but no one was inside it, or in a cabin on the Anderson family property near Motley. Using tracking dogs, they found Anderson standing knee-high in the swamp, his left wrist cut, the charging document read. A bloodstained suicide note was found on a table in the cabin on the land, along with a shotgun and ammunition, according to the initial charge. Alayna’s unclothed body was found nearby in the swamp, with her pink Princess Elsa blanket nearby.
Anderson had no previous criminal history other than traffic violations.
Alayna’s death prompted an outpouring of grief and support for her family in Watkins, population 1,000. Three days after her death, nearly 1,000 people attended a vigil for her near outside the Church of St. Anthony across the street from the Ertls’ house.