A 14-year-old North Carolina boy has been arrested for the rape and murder of 11-year-old McKenzie Sessoms.
The suspect’s grandfather, Howard Jones, identified his teenage grandson after authorities announced that an arrest had been made in connection to Sessoms’ homicide, which occurred last September.
Sessoms’ family found her unresponsive on the coach when they went to wake her up for school. The autopsy revealed that she had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.
Her brothers had hosted a “rowdy gathering” with friends the night before, with her oldest brother going to bed around midnight.
Detectives questioned a dozen people, conducted interviews, and gathered evidence before accusing 14-year-old Antonio Trey Jones, according to the local ABC affiliate. Police say they have matching DNA evidence.
"I cannot fathom the emotional strain they've had to endure while searching for answers," said Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton at a news conference Wednesday, thanking the family for their patience as his office investigated a particularly difficult case.
The victim’s grandmother, Cathy Starke, expressed her relief that the wrongdoer had been apprehended.
“There’s no way I can tell you how it felt yesterday to find out they finally found somebody and got him,” Starke said.
She said her granddaughter was a normal 11-year-old girl who planned to be a nurse or teacher.
"She loved riding horses, riding four-wheelers, just hanging with her friends," said Starke. "She was an 11-year-old child."
“I don’t know what made him do it, but I hope that he’s realized that he’s really messed up his life as well as taking McKenzie away from us,” Starke said.
Those who know the accused 14-year-old, who had been banned from the Sessoms’ household for speaking vulgarly to the victim on a previous occasion, say that the boy has epilepsy and the mental state of a younger child.
“Trey is being accused of terrible, terrible things that I just don't see him mentally capable of doing at all,” said family friend Rhonda Wright, adding that the detectives had “confused” him with their questioning.
But the boy’s grandfather said he was glad justice would be served.
"If he done it, I'm glad they got him. That's all I can say," said Jones.