LAYTON — His mother said her 4-year-old son had a habit of wandering out of their apartment in the middle of the night.

But police don't believe that was ever the case. Instead, detectives believe Ethan Stacy's stepfather killed him, and then he and the boy's mother tried to cover it up.

Ethan had been in Utah just 10 days. He'd been in Virginia with his father and arrived to spend the summer with his mother and his new stepfather. His mother and stepfather had just gotten married on May 6.

Nearly 17 hours after his mother reported him missing from their Layton apartment, Ethan's body was found buried more than 30 miles away in a remote area near Powder Mountain.

Just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, five officers were seen carrying a large blue tarp folded in two down the mountain with the body of Ethan inside.

Nathan Sloop, 31, was arrested for investigation of aggravated murder, child abuse, obstruction of justice and desecration of a corpse. Stephanie Sloop, 27, was arrested for investigation of child abuse, obstruction of justice and desecration of a corpse.

Police say they contacted Ethan's biological father in Virginia and informed him of the tragedy. Authorities did not release his name.

The announcement of the arrests capped a long and heartbreaking day for police officers who had searched throughout the night for the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy with glasses, allegedly last seen wearing Spider-Man pajamas.

"Anytime you get a case involving a child like this, it makes you wonder how that happens," Layton Police Lt. Garret Atkin said.

Investigators did not say Tuesday how, when or why Ethan was killed, but Atkin noted they do not believe his death was premeditated. Police believe that after Ethan was killed, his body was driven to a remote area about 11 miles up Ogden Canyon near Wolf Creek Resort and Powder Mountain, past Pine?view Reservoir, about 200 yards off the main canyon road in a heavily wooded area close to a dirt access road owned by Powder Mountain Ski Resort.

Investigators wearing yellow raincoats and carrying evidence bags and shovels focused on the specific area Tuesday afternoon.

"Due to the weather and terrain, it (was) a very difficult crime scene to process," Atkin said.

Police were originally contacted by the boy's parents at 11:55 p.m. Monday. They said Ethan had gotten out of bed and wandered off again without them noticing.

Officers went door-to-door in the apartment complex asking if tenants had seen anything, checked trash bins, vehicles, storage sheds and area businesses. Police dogs aided in the search, and night vision equipment was used to help search for the boy. Reverse 911 calls were made in the area, and known sex offenders in the area were also questioned, Atkin said.

About 3 a.m., tenants said police knocked on all the apartment doors again, this time asking to conduct a thorough search of each unit.

Residents said the Sloops had just recently moved into the apartment complex.

"They checked the washer, the dryer, lower cupboards, the bathroom — that's good though," said neighbor Steve Haynes.

One neighbor who lives in an apartment adjacent to the Sloops said she was painting inside her house and saw police arrive, searching through her apartment.

"I didn't sleep all night long thinking about that poor boy," said Tracy, who asked to be identified by her first name only. "I saw the stepdad walking around (Tuesday). He looked upset."

Another neighbor, Janet Hope, said she was coming home from work around 6 p.m. either Thursday or Friday and saw Stephanie Sloop come down the steps of her apartment and walk along the sidewalk onto the grass.

"She seemed agitated, kept stopping and looking back," Hope said.

Hope said Nathan Sloop then followed her and "put his hands around her face, like a 'you gotta listen to me' kind of thing. I didn't think about it until all this happened."

Although Hope never saw Ethan, other neighbors, including the Sloops' downstairs neighbor Gary McPhee, said he'd occasionally seen the little boy wandering around by himself. Police aren't sure when the boy was killed, but McPhee said he last saw Ethan on either Saturday or Sunday.

"It's scary to live anywhere, if anybody could do this to a little boy," McPhee said.

Chaunie Kimbro, who has a 15-month-old girl, said she had often seen Nathan and Stephanie Sloop smoking on the steps outside their apartment door, but she never saw a little boy.

"It kinda sounded funny to me that a little boy would be walking out at night in the pouring rain," Kimbro said.

Even before the discovery of Ethan's body, many tenants questioned how the boy could have sneaked out of the apartment without the parents hearing the door.

By 11 a.m., after conducting several interviews with the Sloops, detectives got a break in the case and learned of a possible burial site near Powder Mountain.

"Their stories changed during the process. … They were trying to cover some tracks," Atkin said of the parents.

"Parents are always the ones (investigators) want to start with first in a missing person case. They are typically the last ones who have seen (the child)," Atkin said. "You have to do very, very thorough interviews with the parents."

About two hours later, Layton police announced they no longer needed volunteers to help search for Ethan. By 5 p.m., Ethan's body was recovered.

Atkin did not have much information about the newly married Nathan and Stephanie Sloop. An Internet search of Nathan Sloop showed he has family ties to Davis County and possibly lived in Florida at one time.

Utah court records show Nathan Sloop also has a criminal history in Utah. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to drug possession with intent to distribute, a charge that was amended from a felony to a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 30 days at the Weber County Jail and put on probation. He was off probation at the time of his arrest Tuesday. He was also found guilty of a separate misdemeanor drug possession charge about that same time.

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In 2001, Nathan Sloop was convicted of disorderly conduct and criminal mischief, and a few months later in a separate case he was convicted again of disorderly conduct and failure to obey a peace officer, according to court records.

The Davis County Attorney's Office will review the evidence today and decide whether to file charges against the couple.

Contributing: Lana Groves

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com