Atlanta After three weeks of searching for a 9-year-old Florida girl, police on Saturday found her body within 150 feet of her bedroom, behind a mobile home that was sometimes occupied by a sex offender.
John Evander Couey, 46, reportedly confessed on Friday to the murder of Jessica Lunsford and told authorities where they could find her body.
Citrus County authorities spent the night searching the area around Couey's half-sister's home, and discovered Jessica's body in a shallow grave in the early morning. Her father, Mark Lunsford, visited the site shortly after sunrise.
"Everyone heard me say, time after time, that she would be home," Lunsford told reporters afterward. "She's home now. And it's over."
Sometime during the night of Feb. 23, Jessica disappeared from her bedroom, leaving no sign of a struggle. In the small town of Homosassa Springs near Tampa, where hundreds of neighbors had helped search for the girl, neighbors streamed to the Lunsford home with casseroles, flowers, and stuffed animals. Anger was coursing through the community and many residents called for the death penalty.
Citrus County Sheriff Jeffrey Dawsey called Couey "not a quality person, by any means ... truly a piece of trash." William Coats, the Lunsfords' pastor at the Faith Baptist Church, had heard that other prisoners at the jail are anticipating Couey's arrival, "wanting to get their hands on his neck."
"I'd like to see him dead," said Kalyn Boles, 30, a Lunsford cousin who lives in North Carolina. "It's right there in the Bible, an eye for an eye. I think whatever happened to her should happen to him."
Couey has a long criminal record, including multiple burglaries, indecent exposure and carrying a concealed weapon. In a burglary in 1978, he was accused of grabbing a girl and kissing her, but never charged with a sexual offense, Tierney said. He was convicted of fondling a child in 1991.
The home of his half-sister, Dorothy Dixon, was known as a "drug house," Tierney said. Citrus County authorities have charged Dixon and two other residents of the mobile home with obstruction for failing to inform the police of Couey's incriminating behavior. A fourth man was charged with failing to pay child support.