On October 18, 2009, 7-year-old Somer Thompson was walking home from her Orange Park, Florida school with her twin brother and 10-year-old sister when she disappeared. Her body was found two days later 50 miles away in a landfill in Georgia.
Florida Searches for Somer Thompson
Somer Thompson was a mere 4-foot, 5-inches tall and weighed 65 pounds on the day that she went missing. Her hair was in a ponytail, tied with a red bow and she was carrying her favorite purple Hannah Montana backpack and a lunchbox.
She was walking with her siblings and friends, but then when some in the group got into an argument, she separated from them and walked ahead by herself. It would be the last time Somer Thompson was seen alive.
Investigator immediately suspected foul play and issued an Amber Alert. Police interviewed more than 160 registered sex offenders who lived within a five-mile radius of where Somer disappeared.
Clay County Sheriff Sgt. Dan Mahla called the investigation an all-out search. Working all night, the search included canine units, mounted police, dive teams, and helicopters with heat-sensing technology, Mahla said.
Somer Thompson's Body Is Found
On October 21, 2009, a child's body was found in a landfill in Folkston, Georgia, just across the Florida state line near where Somer Thompson vanished.
Searchers found the body of a young white child at the landfill after sorting through more than 100 tons of garbage. They were not acting on a tip. They followed garbage trucks working Thompson's neighborhood to the site.
Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said it was a standard operating procedure in a missing person case for police to "begin following garbage trucks" and search nearby landfills.
Pornographer Arrested in Somer Thompson Case
A Florida man, who was being held on child pornography charges in Mississippi, was charged with the murder of Somer Thompson. Jarred Mitchell Harrell, 24, faced multiple charges in connection with the murder. Harrell has been in custody in Mississippi since February 11 and was extradited to Florida.
Harrell faced a possible death sentence for charges of premeditated murder, sexual battery of a child under 12 and lewd and lascivious battery, according to court records.
But Harrell was arrested in Meridian, Mississippi on a Florida warrant on more than 50 charges related to the sexual assault of another girl which he allegedly videotaped. He entered a not guilty plea to the charges.
Press reports said at the time of Somer's disappearance, Harrell was living with his parents in a house that was on her route to and from school.
Harrell ultimately faced three trials: one for the molestation of the 3-year-old, one for the murder of Somer Thompson and another for child pornography.
Somer Thompson's Killer Gets Plea Deal
Harrell avoided the death penalty by accepting a plea deal. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole after agreeing to drop his right to appeal the sentence later.
Somer's family members agreed to the plea deal, prosecutors said.
After entering his guilty plea, Harrell listened to several victim impact statements, including one from Somer's twin brother Samuel.
"You know you did this, and now you're going to jail," Samuel Thompson told Harrell.
Somer's mother, Diena Thompson, who attended every court hearing in the case, told Harrell he would never find peace.
No Peace in the Afterlife
"Your punishment does absolutely not fit your crime," she said. "Remember now, there is no safe place for you. You do not have an impenetrable cell. There will be no peace in the afterlife."
Court papers show that on Oct. 19, 2009, Harrell lured Somer into the Orange Park, Florida house where he was living with his mother on the route on which she walked from school. There he sexually assaulted her, killed her and put her body in the garbage.
Harrell pleaded to first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery in the Somer Thompson case. But he also pleaded to possession of child pornography and several other sexual-related charges in connection with an unrelated case involving a 3-year-old.
The child was a relative of Harrell's, according to court records.
House Where Somer Died Is Destroyed
On Feb. 12, 2015, Orange Park firefighters burned to the ground the house where Somer Thompson was killed. The Somer Thompson Foundation purchased the property and it was used for a live training exercise after the purchase.
"Burn, baby, burn," said Somer's mother, Diena Thompson, after she tossed a flare inside the brick home while several hundred bystanders looked on.
The home, owned by Harrell's mother, became vacant after his arrest and ended up in foreclosure when the foundation bought it and offered it to the Orange Park Fire Department for a training exercise.
Thompson said burning the house brought her family relief.
"I get to burn their house down," Thompson said. "I'm the big bad wolf this time knocking down your door, not the other way around. It's really nice to know that I'm not ever going to have to drive in this neighborhood again and see this piece of trash."
She said she hoped the property will be turned into something positive for the community one day.