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Skyler Kauffman was due home for dinner, but her mother and grandmother hadn’t seen the fun loving little girl. They were starting to get worried.

At the same time 5:45 Monday afternoon, police say Heather Clemens heard a girl screaming pitifully from the basement of the Souderton apartment complex where she lived with fianc James Lee Troutman.

Two or three times, a female voice “wailed” a long drawn out “noooo,” Clemens later told investigators, before she heard loud crashing noises and a sound like someone being thrown to the ground. She called Troutman, but he didn’t answer. Five minutes later, Troutman returned her call saying he was exercising at a local school and he hoped “everything’s OK.”

Heather Gebhard and her mother, Pamela Gebhard, began scouring the Souderton Gardens Apartments complex and the nearby streets of the quiet Montgomery County borough for Skyler, then called police when they couldn’t find her. Local police issued an Amber Alert for the dark haired girl, last seen in a Justin Bieber T shirt, yoga pants and Ugg clogs, and swarmed the area.

It was too late. Just before midnight, Montgomery County detectives found Skyler’s bloody body, wrapped in a comforter and tossed in a trash bin at the apartment complex. A single Ugg clog was found on the basement floor, near a pool of blood and blood spattered walls. A trail of blood led from the basement to the trash container.

On Tuesday afternoon, police charged Troutman, 24, who lived in Apartment 33 of Skyler’s building with raping and murdering the third grader in the basement of the complex.

Troutman confessed what he’d done to detectives, they wrote in an affidavit. The 6 foot 2, 283 pound man said he just “snapped,” choking the girl with his hands, then smashing her head against the concrete floor, the detectives wrote.

“It was like a whiteout,” he said. “I got rid of her. I think the Dumpster.”

When asked why he’d killed the little girl, Troutman told detectives, “because once I took her down the basement I knew she could get me in trouble.”

“It’s one of those situations where everyone did what they were supposed to do and unfortunately we couldn’t prevent the death of a child,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. “Her family looked before they contacted police; there was no overreaction. It appears from everything we know that the crime took place very quickly and the body was disposed of very quickly and I can’t say there was anything anyone could have done that would have been able to prevent this tragic event.”

Troutman was arraigned before District Judge Kenneth Deatelhauser Tuesday afternoon and committed to Montgomery County Prison without bail on charges of first and second degree murder, kidnapping and a host of sexual offenses. A crowd of onlookers jeered and hurled epithets from a grassy hill across the street as he was led away in handcuffs and a bulletproof vest, shielding his face with his hands and later, with court papers.

It wasn’t the first time Skyler had a run in with Troutman, Ferman said. Just three weeks earlier, on April 18, she and a friend reported that Troutman had tried to lock them in his apartment and asked if they wanted to “see his bird” after allowing them in to use his bathroom. They got spooked after discovering pictures of naked women and bolted.

Police were called, but no charges were filed. Ferman said that while she doesn’t have all the details, she doesn’t think what happened in that incident rose to the level of a crime, and she asked local police not to discuss it to avoid prejudicing the prosecution.

Neighbors said Troutman had moved into the apartments within the last few months and wasn’t well known around the complex.

Skyler, however, was known to many. Neighbors described the 9 year old as a precocious, bright, outgoing girl who loved to play dress up and was full of energy. Her mother, Heather Gebhard, talked on her Facebook page about a birthday party for her daughter, her Brownie activities and how she didn’t want to come home and go to bed.

“She was a little bit of everything,” said neighbor Cori Wagner, whose 2 year old daughter Zoey sometimes played with Skyler. It was a common ritual in a cramped complex where the lot doubled as a play area for the residents’ kids. and were unable to locate her. Then, according to court papers, apartment residents Waldamar Rios and Elissette Triana approached police officer James Throop with ominous information. They had found a puddle of blood in the basement of the complex.

Throop headed to the basement where he found a large puddle of blood, what looked like blood spattered on the heater and the single clog.

Police called in Montgomery County detectives and officers from surrounding departments, according to court papers. That’s when county Detective Edward Schikel bumped into Troutman and noticed what would become a key clue: a substance that appeared to be blood on Troutman’s sneaker.

“I don’t think it is possible for me to overstate the significance of Detective Schikel’s discovery,” Ferman said. “To spot blood or what looked to be blood on a sneaker that was black in the dark was an extraordinary observation. Without the observation, I don’t know that we would be here today.”

Schikel questioned Troutman about his whereabouts and went to his apartment, where a search revealed exercise clothing that was “extremely saturated with blood” and caked with mud, and began to question Clemens, Troutman’s fianc who agreed to help the investigation.

It was then that she told investigators about hearing the screams.

She also said when Troutman came home about 15 20 minutes after she called him, he was “dirty and sweaty” and had “caked on mud” on his clothes and the front of his body. He threw the clothes in the hamper, showered, and they had dinner.

An autopsy performed Tuesday attributed the girl’s death to asphyxiation and blunt force trauma. Her genital area showed severe trauma.

Ferman said Troutman had no significant criminal history he pleaded guilty to shoplifting in 2008 and was not a friend of Skyler’s family.

Skyler attended E. M. Crouthamel Elementary School on School Lane in Souderton. Residents who showed up at the crime scene, standing near an array of television, radio and newspaper reporters, said Skyler would have been 10 years old next month.

Frederick C. Johnson, the Souderton Area School District superintendent, said grief counseling was available for all students at the elementary school.

“It’s a very sad day,” Johnson said at a midday news conference. “We cannot express to the family our feeling of sorrow and loss. We want to share with them as much as possible again our grief at this time in their lives. We pray they have strength, and the good Lord gets them through this and we will help them as part of our family.”
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