Body of 11-year-old Salisbury girl found near Delaware border

Thousands turned out on Christmas Day to look for Sarah Haley Foxwell

December 26, 2009|By Michael Dresser | michael.dresser@baltsun.com

SALISBURY — — The body of a kidnapped 11-year-old girl was found Christmas Day after a search that brought about 3,000 volunteers out to comb the muddy fields and woods of Wicomico County, law enforcement officials said.

Police say Sarah Haley Foxwell had been taken Tuesday night from her bedroom by a registered sex offender who has been held in her abduction for the past three days.

The girl's body was discovered about 4 p.m. in the Rum Ridge area of northern Wicomico about three-quarters of a mile south of the Maryland- Delaware state line, an area that had been a focus of the search.

Wicomico Sheriff Mike Lewis said no additional charges have been brought against Thomas James Leggs Jr., the sex offender who had been charged with kidnapping the girl. But he described the death as a murder.

Police would not comment on the cause of death or condition of Sarah's body.

Earlier in the day, law enforcement officials said they were talking with other potential victims of Leggs.

"We have been interviewing possible additional victims," Lewis said at an afternoon briefing. "There are several."

He did not provide additional details.

Police were to work on the crime scene, an area of suburban homes and fields, throughout the night, Lewis said. He asked residents to stay away.

The sheriff said Sarah's family had been notified.

While many of the groups that scoured the Eastern Shore countryside all day were made up mostly of civilians, the body was discovered by a search team of law enforcement officers, including sheriff's deputies, Maryland state troopers and Salisbury police.

The announcement of Sarah's death came on a day when the more than 3,000 volunteers put aside Christmas plans and gathered before dawn at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, home to the minor league Delmarva Shorebirds, to take part in the search for the girl.

One of the volunteers, Jim Harrington of Roxana, Del., said he arrived at 6 a.m. "because I care." He was willing to do "whatever they want me to do."

Patrick O'Grady of Parsonsburg, who also joined the search, hoped that others would do the same if something were to happen to his 11-year-old daughter, who had attended a candlelight vigil for Sarah on Christmas Eve. He said she came back and told him, "Daddy, go find this little girl. You can open your presents when you get back."

The morning volunteers were organized into groups of eight to 10, with each team accompanied by a law enforcement officer and a fire official.

As crews trudged through muddy terrain, the sheriff asked Wicomico property owners to scour their own fields, woodlands and yards. He asked owners to display a red ribbon, flag or article of clothing on their mailboxes or other areas to alert law enforcement that the area had been searched.

Davis Ruark, state's attorney for Wicomico County, gave morning volunteers gathered in the stadium instructions on how to keep crime scenes uncontaminated. He included explicit advice to "not touch any potential body that might be found."

Later, Ruark marveled at the turnout, as volunteers arrived from as far away as Massachusetts and a 16-person dive team was dispatched from Baltimore. "I have never seen anything like this in all my years of being state's attorney," he said. "The community has just risen to the occasion."

Leggs, 30, who lived in a building on the grounds of his parents' Salisbury home, was arrested Wednesday and charged with burglary and kidnapping in Sarah's disappearance, police said. Two older people who answered the door at the home declined to comment Friday, asking a reporter to leave the property.

Leggs is listed on sex offender registries in Maryland and Delaware, and was not cooperating with police, said Sgt. Charsten Wendlandt of the Wicomico County Sheriff's Office.

Leggs, who works in his family's custom cabinet business, recently dated the girl's aunt, who is the guardian for Sarah and two of her siblings, Wendlandt said. A younger sister awoke during the night on Tuesday to see Sarah leave the room with their aunt's former boyfriend, whom the girl identified as "Tommy," according to court documents.

Another relative discovered Sarah missing in the morning, Wendlandt said.

Leggs knew the family kept a spare key under a pot on the porch of the home, according to court documents.

According to charging documents, the girl's aunt, Amy Fothergill, dated Leggs "for a short period of time a month or so ago and ... Leggs just stopped contacting her."

Fothergill told police that she knew that Leggs was a registered sex offender.

Leggs "was developed as a suspect early on in the investigation before we were aware of his criminal background, but he does have a criminal history to include third- and fourth-degree sex offenses of small, young females," said Lewis.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.