Jarred Harrell is behind bars for the murder of 7-year-old Somer Thompson, whose dismembered body was found in a landfill more than 50 miles from where she was last seen in Orange Park, Florida.
On the afternoon of Oct. 19, 2009, Somer was walking home in the Grove Park neighborhood from Grove Park Elementary School, where she attended second grade.
She was with her siblings and her friends until they got into an argument about an incident that happened earlier.
The quarrel prompted Somer to walk ahead of the group and disappear into a crowd of children on the sidewalk, CNN reported.
Her 10-year-old sister and twin brother arrived home about 15 minutes later, but Somer was nowhere to be found. That’s when hundreds of neighbors joined the Thompson family in searching for Somer.
When their efforts were unsuccessful, relatives contacted the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and reported Somer missing.
ABC News reported that people in the community started to judge Diena Thompson, who was a single, working mother, for letting her children walk to and from school alone.
But according to Florida state policy, her children weren’t allowed to ride the school bus because their residence was less than a mile from the school.
Diena said the policy made “no sense… You’re making my child walk in a jungle of monsters every single day, walking home from school.”
“Our children should be allowed to walk to school without worrying that a monster is going to jump out and steal them and never let them come home.”
On Oct. 21, 2009, police officers trailed nine municipal garbage trucks from Somer’s neighborhood to the Chesser Island Road Landfill in Folston, Georgia.
After they rummaged through 225 tons of garbage, they found Somer dead in the middle of the rubbish.
She had been dismembered. An officer initially spotted her brown hair and her leg sticking out of the trash.
Her body was transported to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, which revealed that Somer’s cause of death was “asphyxiation and multiple blunt force injury,” according to First Coast News.
Several months after Somer’s disappearance and death, Jarred Harrell, who was 24 years old at the time, became a suspect in the case.
One of Somer’s friends said they last saw her in front of his house on Gano Avenue, where she would often pet a white dog.
Police learned through an investigation that Harrell was later kicked out of the house after his roommate found out that he was stealing and had child pornography on his computer, which was handed over to police.
Harrell then moved in with his aunt in Meridien, Mississippi, where he was arrested and charged with 29 counts of child pornography in February 2010.
He was held in the county jail on a $1 million bond.
On April 1, 2010, he received four additional charges: first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual battery, and lewd and lascivious molestation.
In a four-hour recorded interview with detectives, Harrell confessed to kidnapping and murdering Somer.
He told investigators that Somer went to his home hoping to pet the dog, but he wasn’t outside. He told her that the dog was inside the house and that she could go in and pet him or play with him, according to News 4 Jax.
Once he lured Somer inside, he sexually assaulted her before striking her several times on the head and strangling her to death.
Harrell then placed Somer’s body inside a cooler, drove to Village Square Parkway in Fleming Island, and threw it in a dumpster.
DNA evidence recovered from Somer’s remains matched Harrell.
When Diena read the interview, she told reporters that it made her want to “scream,” but she “felt like I had no choice but to read it. Even if I didn’t want to, I had no choice. I had no choice because it’s so public.”
“That I have to be armed with the right knowledge to go out here in front of people because they are going to come up to me and say, ‘Oh, did you read this?’ or ‘Oh, did you know this?'”
Diena went on to say that she was “disgusted” when she ascertained that Harrell told law enforcement officers that he’d plead guilty to killing Somer if they dropped the sexual molestation charges.
“In one part of that, he says his actual words are, ‘I’ll eat a murder. I’ll eat the murder charge if you guys take away the child porn charge’. And I just can’t believe that murder is the less of two evils in this situation,” Diena said.
On Feb. 3, 2012, Harrell pleaded guilty to kidnapping, sexual battery, possession of child pornography, and other sex charges in an unrelated case involving a 3-year-old.
His guilty plea was part of a plea deal with prosecutors that would waive his right to appeal. He told the judge that he made the agreement to avoid the death penalty, the IB Times reported.
At his sentencing on Feb. 3, 2012, Diena addressed her daughter’s killer in court. She said, “You’re not even a human being, the victim’s sister said in court after Harrell’s plea. Your name is not Jarred Harrell. Your name is ‘monster.’”
“She trusted you, but you had to do what you did, and look where it got you. And now you’re going to jail,” yelled Somer’s brother.
“It is now time to take out the trash; may God have mercy on your sorry soul,” Diena continued.
Action News Jax reported that State Attorney Angela Corey said, “Our concern was to get justice for Somer, and we feel like we got fairly swift and fairly sure justice.”
Clay County Circuit Judge Don Lester sentenced Jarred Harrell to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering Somer.
Lester sentenced Harrell to no more than 35 years for the child pornography charges.