Suspect in N.D. Girl's Abduction Dies

The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 24, 2006; 9:22 PM

MINOT, N.D. -- Authorities searched a wildlife refuge Wednesday for a missing 3-year-old girl after the body of the man who authorities suspect took her was found following an apparent suicide.

Leigh Cowen, 22, was found Tuesday inside a van on a gravel road at the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, authorities said. Cowen appeared to have killed himself by carbon monoxide poisoning.

There was no trace of Reachelle Smith, who was last seen the night of May 16 when she was put to bed in her home.

"We really didn't have any indication that she was here. The only reason we wanted to search this area so thoroughly was that he was found there," said sheriff's Capt. Todd Keller.

Officials said the search also included part of the Souris River in Minot, near the girl's home, and an area where a farmer thought he had recently seen the van in which Cowen's body was found.

Authorities said Cowen lived with the girl's aunt, who is her legal guardian. He had told the woman that the 3-year-old was staying with his mother. Police later learned that Cowen's mother did not know the girl's whereabouts and issued an Amber Alert.

Reachelle's mother and aunt tearfully pleaded Wednesday for her safe return. They said the girl has asthma and needs treatment for it.

"Right now, we just want her back," her mother, Samantha Smith said, crying.

State officials said Cowen was on probation for theft of property in Ward County and had failed to report in as required. A warrant was issued last month for his arrest on charges of violating his probation.

© 2006 The Associated Press