A tragic end to the week-long search for Brooke Bennett.
Police believe they found remains of the 12-year-old girl late Wednesday afternoon in Randolph -- near the home of the uncle she was seen with in surveillance video the day she disappeared.
Brooke Bennett disappeared last Wednesday and became the subject of Vermont's first-ever Amber Alert. Police hope an autopsy will confirm the identity of the remains and determine the cause of death. Right now they are saying it is clearly suspicious and appears to be foul play.
"It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that I announce that we have located what we believe to be the remains of Brooke Bennett," said Col. James Baker, director of the Vermont State Police, at an evening press conference.
Baker said investigators had been optimistic they would find Brooke Bennett alive. But the body of the 12-year-old girl missing for the past week was found on Crocker Road in Randolph, near the home of her uncle, Michael Jacques.
Jacques was the last person seen with Brooke. A surveillance camera captured them at a Cumberland Farms convenience store in Randolph last Wednesday morning. Police also said Jacques was the person who found clothing near the floating bridge in Brookfield that forensics connected to Brooke.
Jacques has been charged with her kidnapping.
"This investigation is making progress," Col. Baker said. "With the discovery of Brooke, our investigation is now narrowed and focused."
Jacques was arraigned Monday, on charges that he sexually assaulted another young girl. According to court papers, he convinced that girl she was part of a sex ring called "Breckenridge" and repeatedly assaulted her over the past five years.
That girl told police Jacques may have been trying to lure Brooke into that same ring the day she disappeared. She said Jacques took Brooke to his home in Randolph last Wednesday morning after they left the convenience store. Police believe the story that she may have been meeting someone she met on MySpace was a ruse. A message posted on her MySpace page read, in part: "I do want to see you in the morning, so please meet me.... u know where. I think i have a good plan to sneak around this."
Computer forensics revealed that message had been written with Jacques' laptop computer. Further investigation showed it had been altered again using a computer in Texas. That computer is registered to the roommate of Brooke's former stepfather, Raymond Gagnon, who is also a friend of Jacques.
Gagnon appeared in federal court in Burlington Wednesday. Police have charged him with obstruction of justice. Authorities said he told his roommate to throw his laptop in the trash. That laptop has not been found.
"The painful discovery of Brooke's body today is tragic and heartbreaking," Col. Baker said. But while the search for Brooke is over, the case is not. United States Attorney Tom Anderson and Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell will hold a press conference Thursday morning to detail the kidnapping charges against Jacques. No charges have been filed relating to Brooke's death.
"We are at yet another crucial stage in the investigation," Col. Baker said.
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