LOGAN — A 14-year-old Amalga girl found in a dry canal last week after failing to come home from school had been shot in the head, investigators announced Tuesday.
Additionally, two 16-year-old boys were charged Tuesday with attempted aggravated murder. The Cache County Attorney's Office says it will seek to have the boys certified to face the charges as adults.
Police believe the boys plotted to kill Deserae Turner, lured her to the canal under the guise of buying a knife, and then shot her once in the back of the head at close range.
"Police were advised that the original plan was to murder (Deserae) using knives," charging documents state.
One of the boys kept the shell casing as a "memento" and displayed it on his bedroom window sill, the charges state.
"I haven’t seen anything like this case in the 18 years that I’ve worked for Cache County," Cache County Attorney James Swink said.
A spokeswoman for Deserae's family said the girl remained in a medically induced coma at Primary Children's Hospital in the "fight of her life right now."
"We know that our Father in heaven is watching over her, that all of us have been touched by her. We know that he hears and answers prayers, and we can see his hand at work as Deserae continues to make progress,” Jill Parker said, reading a prepared statement from the girl's family.
The search for Deserae, who is from the small town of Amalga, began Thursday evening. The ninth-grader who attends North Cache 8-9 Center in Richmond had been texting her family on and off throughout the day and was expected to be home by 4 p.m. that day, according to police. She typically takes a bus to Sky View High School, where she takes a second bus to get home.
When she failed to arrive, Deserae was reported as overdue and missing to police about 6:30 p.m. She was found hours later about 12:45 a.m. Friday in a dry canal east of Sky View High School by two family friends who were out looking for her.
Deserae was taken to a local hospital, where doctors determined she was "gravely injured," said Smithfield Police Chief Travis Allen. She was then flown to Primary Children's Hospital for additional treatment.
"Further medical evaluation revealed that Deserae had suffered a gunshot wound to the head," Allen said. Investigators had not publicly shared that information until Tuesday.
Metal fragments that were determined to be the remnants of a small-caliber bullet were found lodged near the front, right side of Deserae's brain, the charges state.
After it was revealed that she had been shot, police say more than 500 man-hours of serving search warrants and interviewing Deserae's friends and acquaintances took place over the weekend. Police looked for everyone she may have had contact with on that day.
Two 16-year-old boys soon became "significant people of interest," Allen said.
Detectives later recovered the handgun believed to have been used in the shooting, as well as several of Deserae's personal items, including her cellphone.
The two boys are charged in 1st District Juvenile Court with attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; and four counts of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony. The teens have no significant criminal history, according to court officials. The Deseret News has decided not to name the boys at this time.
Citing an "active investigation," Allen declined to reveal more information about the boys or a possible motive for the shooting.
But according to charging documents, when the two boys were questioned about Deserae's whereabouts before she was found, one boy claimed he hadn't seen her in about a month. The other said he hadn't seen her all day. But records collected from one of the boy's phones showed he had been in contact with Deserae prior to her disappearance, the charges state.
One boy eventually told police they took Deserae's cellphone, backpack, iPod and cash because of "greed," the charges state. The boy said he put the $55 they stole from Deserae under the mattress of his bed and destroyed or threw away the other items, police say. That boy then said he put the .22-caliber revolver that he had taken from underneath his brother's mattress back where he found it and replaced the unspent shells, according to charging documents.
That boy also "provided a written apology to (Deserae's) family in which he stated, 'I'm so so so sorry,' the charges state.
The other boy — the one that allegedly kept the spent casing used to shoot Deserae as a memento — changed his story multiple times when interviewed by police, the charges state.
Allen also did not say whether detectives believe Deserae was shot in the canal where she was found or if she was assaulted at another location and dumped there.
Police previously said the canal is next to a high-traffic area popular with joggers and people who walk their dogs, and the area had been searched Thursday night.
The boys do not face any kidnapping charges. Their first court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday morning.5 comments on this story
"We have a 14-year-old girl fighting for her life, and we’re going to do everything we can to find all evidence associated with this case," Allen said. "This has shaken up our citizens and our community.
"We know the Turner family has a long road ahead of them, and we wish them all the best.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with Deserae's medical expenses. Additionally, a Deserae Turner Charity Fund has been set up at America First Credit Union.
Crisis counselors were at several schools in Cache County on Tuesday to help students and teachers who needed additional support.