Two men face rape, murder charges in Missouri girl's death

Sunday, November 11, 2007
Friends gathered Friday in front of the home of Colleen Spears in Stella, Mo. The body of Spears' daughter, Rowan Ford, was found on private land about 10 miles south of the girl's hometown of Stella, Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland said. (Mike Gullett ~ Associated Press)

CASSVILLE, Mo. -- A 9-year-old girl's stepfather and another man were charged Saturday with her murder and rape, a day after the body of Rowan Ford was found in a southwest Missouri cave following a weeklong search.

Barry County prosecutors charged stepfather David Spears, 24, and his friend, Chris Collings, 32, with one count each of first-degree murder, forcible rape and statutory rape.

In Rowan's small Ozarks hometown of Stella, reactions ranged from disbelief to anger after the discovery of her body and the arrests of the two men.

"We've gone from sad to angry," said Alica Blevins, 51, a neighbor of Rowan's mother Colleen Spears. "It's mind-boggling. The whole town is just in shock and can't believe this."

Rowan Ford's disappearance from her blue ranch-style house in the village of 172 people last weekend had sparked an intensive search by dozens of officers from three counties and 50 FBI agents and specialists. It ended Friday, when her body was found in a cave in a remote part of McDonald County, about 10 miles south of Stella.

Rowan had gone missing while in her stepfather's care, and authorities early on had said he was not cooperating in explaining a lengthy absence that night from the family's house.

Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly said Collings confessed to authorities Friday. Based in part on Collings' statement, the affidavit Epperly sent to the prosecutor alleges that Collings and Spears took Rowan from her home to a camping trailer where Collings lived in Barry County, about 10 miles east of Stella.

There, Epperly said, the men raped Rowan and one of them then strangled her with a cord. Epperly said it wasn't clear which man strangled her.

Epperly said a kidnapping charge was expected to be filed in Newton County against Collings but likely not against Spears, because as the girl's stepfather he had legal guardianship. Newton County authorities could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Epperly said Collings, who was being held in the Barry County Jail, does not have an attorney yet. Spears' mother, Myrna Spears, said her son didn't have an attorney yet and would likely need a public defender.

She also said at her home outside Stella that her son had admitted to her from jail on Friday night that he had taken part in the crime. She said her son claimed to have suffered a blackout and his memories of that night started coming back to him Friday.

Authorities have said Spears had been drinking that night.

"He's my one and only," Myrna Spears said, choking back tears as she stood in the front door of the farmhouse where she was raised and David grew up. "He's all torn up. He really did love her."

David Spears was being held Saturday in the Newton County Jail and was expected to be transferred to Barry County later in the day.

Collings' brother, Greg Horton, 44, of Mount Vernon, said he doesn't believe the allegations.

"I don't believe he could do something like this. He has three kids of his own," Horton said. Collings' children are all younger than 10 and live in Arkansas with their mother, who is separated from Collings, Horton said.

In Stella, neighbors outside Rowan's house said the girl's mother, 44-year-old mother Colleen Spears, was too broken up to talk to reporters.

"She's numb," said Bill Alsop, the town's mayor and a friend of Colleen's. "She's trying to keep herself busy. She's in there right now on the sewing machine, sewing something for her baby's funeral."

A memorial service is being planned for sometime next week in one of the larger churches in nearby Neosho because hundreds of mourners are expected, Alsop said.

The girl's mother discovered her daughter was missing about 9 a.m. Nov. 3, after working a night shift at a Wal-Mart in a nearby town.

David Spears initially told investigators he had gone out with friends the night of Nov. 2, leaving Rowan alone after she fell asleep. He said he returned around midnight but did not check on the girl, authorities said.

Authorities said he later acknowledged he had gone out a second time, around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 3, after calling his mother and asking to borrow her sport utility vehicle. His mother has said she watched TV but did not check on Rowan while she waited for Spears to return. He was gone for 5 1/2 hours.

Spears previously has said that it was wrong for him to leave the girl alone and that he initially withheld some information about his whereabouts that night because he was afraid authorities would suspect him in her disappearance.

Colleen and David Spears reported Rowan missing about 6:50 p.m. on Nov. 3, after spending much of the day looking for the girl at the homes of acquaintances where they thought she might have gone.

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