Suspect charged with killing north Florida girl

ORANGE PARK — An unemployed restaurant worker was charged Friday with sexually assaulting and killing 7-year-old Somer Thompson, who was discovered in a Georgia landfill two days after she vanished walking home from school in north Florida.

Jarred Mitchell Harrell, 24, faces charges of premeditated murder, lewd and lascivious battery and sexual battery. Somer was lured into Harrells’ parents’ home and later asphyxiated and tossed into a trash bin, Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said.

“I’ve waited 158 days to find out who did this to my child,” said Somer’s mom, Diena Thompson. “Who could do this?”

Harrell was already being investigated for child porn on his computer when the second-grader went missing Oct. 19, but initially he wasn’t a prime suspect in her disappearance. Instead, authorities interviewed convicted sex offenders within a 5-mile radius of Somer’s suburban north Florida home.

Clay County authorities filed the child porn charges Feb. 11 and Harrell was arrested in Mississippi. He was called a person of interest in Somer’s case and has been in jail ever since.

Somer’s case — an innocent little girl vanishing from a quiet suburban street — resonated with many.

“It could have been any one of our children,” the sheriff said.

During a press conference at the same church where Somer’s memorial service was held, Beseler said detectives used DNA evidence, witnesses and statements from Harrell to solve the case.

Somer’s mother said she would support prosecutors’ efforts if they decide to seek capital punishment.

“A monster. That’s all this person is, a monster,” she said.