Two young brothers, 15 and 17 years old, have been arrested and will be charged by the Gloucester County, N.J., prosecutor's office in connection with the death of 12-year-old Autumn Pascale, who was reported missing on Saturday. Pasquale's body was found last night, strangled and stuffed inside a recycling bin outside an abandoned house next door to the brothers' home.
A neighbor identified the brothers arrested as Dante Robinson, 17, and Justin Robinson, 15. Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton said he is currently deciding whether to charge them as adults with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, disposing of a body, tampering with evidence and theft. The younger brother will also be charged with one count of luring.
The neighbor said that the younger brother fixes bikes as a hobby, but that she could not imagine an explanation for his alleged actions. "My heart goes out to the family of the victim," she said. "And my heart goes out to the [boys'] mom, because I know she didn't raise [a] murderer."
Dalton said the boys' mom, identified by neighbors as Anita Robinson, contacted police after finding an incriminating Facebook post on one of her son's pages. He said the investigation revealed that the suspects wanted to obtain BMX bicycle parts. Pasquale was last seen leaving her home on Saturday afternoon on a white Odyssey BMX. Investigators recovered that bike inside the boys' home today, according to Dalton.
"I was crying in Target today just thinking about it – the way it happened, how they did it to her," said Clayton resident Pauline Laughlin, whose family is acquainted with the Pasquales. "The way they stuffed her in the recycling bin hurts me more than anything else."
A member of a search party found Pasquale's body around 10 p.m. last night in a recycling container about a half-mile from the girl's home. Family members confirmed it was that of Pasquale this afternoon. "Our little angel Autumn has reached out to the world in her own special way," Pasquale's uncle and godfather Paul Spadafora said. "She's an angel. She was an angel here on Earth and she's an angel up in heaven."
The discovery, which rocked the small community, followed a massive search effort that consisted of an estimated 2,500 civilians and more than 200 local, county, state and federal law enforcement officials. "It doesn't seem real to us," Laughlin said. "This is the kind of thing you see in movies, not in your hometown – and it's a small little town."
About 75 friends and family members, along with all of the area's known
sex offenders, were interviewed in the two days Pasquale was missing. Investigators requested security camera footage from local businesses and monitored social media networks for clues. A reward for information leading to the missing child grew to $10,000 by yesterday afternoon.
Dalton said today that the proceedings have transitioned from a search to a criminal investigation. "The search for Autumn is over, but the investigation to find out what happened to Autumn has begun,” he said.
Pasquale was reported missing from her home around 9:30 p.m. Saturday after failing to check in by the family's 8 p.m. curfew. The child's last known communications were two text messages sent around 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Police said that there was nothing unusual about them.
The seventh-grade student at Clayton Middle School was due to turn 13 in less than a week. "This is a very sad day for the Pasquale family," Dalton said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to the family and to all the residents of Clayton who stood together in support of this young girl."
Lauglin, who is herself the mother of two young children, said that the neighborhood is shocked by both the grisly crime and by the arrests. "The first thing I thought of was a sex offender," she said of Pasquale's alleged killer. "Not two little kids. They're all just kids."