BOSTON – A Texas woman was arrested late Wednesday in the death of her 6-year-old boy, who was never reported missing and whose body was found along a dirt road in Maine, authorities said.
Julianne McCrery, 42, of Irving, Texas, was apprehended in Massachusetts earlier in the day. She was charged with being a fugitive from justice stemming from a second-degree murder charge in New Hampshire, where authorities say her son, Camden, was killed last week, New Hampshire Attorney General Michael A. Delaney said. Camden's body was found in South Berwick, Maine, near the state line with New Hampshire.
Preliminary autopsy findings showed that the cause of Camden's death was asphyxiation and the manner of death was homicide, according to Maine's chief medical examiner, Dr. Margaret Greenwald. The homicide remains under investigation.
McCrery is to be arraigned Thursday in Massachusetts, in Concord District Court. The voicemail was full for a Texas phone listing for McCrery.
Maine State Police had released a computer-generated image showing a boy with dirty blond hair and blues eyes as they spent several frustrating days seeking the boy's identity.
Christian von Atzigen, of Irving, Texas, said he told police he recognized the son of Julianne McCrery, a woman he and his wife have been close friends with for 15 years.
"We didn't want to believe it," von Atzigen said.
"Julie's a good person. If you would ever ask me if she would harm a hair on that precious little boy's head, I would say never," he told The Associated Press. "She loves that boy."
A telephone tip led police to the woman at a highway rest stop in Chelmsford, Mass., said Massachusetts State Police spokesman David Procopio.
Several troopers who responded engaged her in conversation, and she agreed to go to state police barracks in Concord for questioning. After several hours of questioning, state police decided to have the woman taken to a hospital for a medical evaluation, Procopio said.
McCrery was charged in New Hampshire because police believe the boy died in Hampton, where a state police command post was set up outside a motel on Wednesday. New Hampshire officials said the boy died Saturday, the same day his body was discovered by a local resident in Maine.
Texas public records show that McCrery was arrested at least twice on prostitution charges and once for possession with intent to distribute drugs. In 2009, she was sentenced to one year in prison for a misdemeanor conviction of prostitution. In 2004, she was sentenced to three years of probation for a felony conviction of possession of a controlled substance.
Von Atzigen said he first met McCrery about 15 years ago when she went to school with his wife. He said he and his wife became good friends with McCrery and her husband. After McCrery and her husband divorced, he and his wife remained friends with both of them, he said.
Von Atzigen said Camden was a happy little boy, and he never heard McCrery even raise her voice to him.
"I never even saw her discipline him," he said. "He was just a great little boy, just fun, a good kid, smart as a whip," he said.
Von Atzigen said he last saw McCrery on Easter, when she came to his house to get a part to fix her hot water heater. While she was there, she dropped off some of her son Camden's toys for his 2-year-old son, he said.
He said he doesn't know why McCrery was in Maine.
"My wife talked to her a couple of days ago and everything seemed OK," he said. "There was no mention of her going anywhere."
Investigators fielded more than 200 tips since the boy's body was found. Police also conducted DNA tests on the body, released a detailed photo of the boy's sneakers and notified Interpol.
On Wednesday, the police apprehension of the woman set off a rapid-fire chain of events in which jurisdiction shifted from Maine, where the boy was found, to Massachusetts, where McCrery was questioned, and ultimately to New Hampshire, where the formal charges were filed.
It's extremely unusual for a missing child to go unreported. Similar cases happened only twice over the past two years, said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"In the vast, vast majority of these, there's someone, a parent or grandparent, searching for that child," Allen said Wednesday.
In April 2010, the body of a 6-year-old boy was discovered near a lake in north Texas and his grandmother was eventually charged with murder; in May 2009, a 3-year-old boy's body was found buried at a playground in Albuquerque, N.M., and his mother was eventually charged with killing him.
In both cases, family members failed to report the boys missing.
"In cases where children are murdered or disposed of, typically the perpetrator is the one who should be reporting the child missing," Allen said.
In Maine, the case has led to an outpouring of emotion. Several hundred people attended a candlelight vigil in the boy's memory Tuesday night in front of the South Berwick town hall.
Near where the boy was found, people have placed three crosses, dozens of stuffed animals, candles, flowers, a baseball and other children's items. A framed piece of paper says, "God Bless This Little Boy."
Bruce and Laurie Ralph, who live down the street from where the body was found, placed a stuffed animal on the site.
"The whole community has come together and has feelings for this boy, who nobody seems to know who he is," Laurie Ralph said Wednesday as she and her husband visited the site. "You hear of missing children all the time, but when it happens in your hometown — and on your own street — it's scarier."
Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Clarke Canfield in Alfred, Maine; and Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.
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