A South Dakota teenager has been charged as an adult with killing a missing Moorcroft girl after a body believed to be that of 16-year-old Shayna Ritthaler was found in his basement.
The 17-year-old defendant is charged as an adult with second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence upon conviction. The teen made his initial court appearance Wednesday and will remain in juvenile detention with his bond set at $1 million.
Michael Gavin Campbell is charged in the death of the girl, whose body was found Monday in the basement of the teen’s home near Sturgis, which is in western South Dakota just north of Rapid City and near the state’s border with Wyoming.
Authorities believe it is Ritthaler, a Moorcroft teen who had been missing since last Thursday.
Prosecutors allege Campbell shot Ritthaler after they had an argument.
Michele Bordewyk, the acting Meade County state’s attorney, said in court that the defendant was with the victim when an argument turned violent and “he shot her.”
Defense attorney Steven Titus of Gillette said he will ask that the case be returned to juvenile court and that his client will plead not guilty at his next court appearance, which is scheduled for Oct. 17.
Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said he couldn’t yet share details on how the girl died. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday. He said he doesn’t know how the defendant and victim knew each other.
The body was found when deputies and agents from the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation executed a search warrant on the request of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, which was working with investigators in Wyoming, the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.
Bordewyk said the boy lived at the home with his mother and that he had recently moved there from Brookings, which is in eastern South Dakota near the state’s border with Minnesota.
The case began at about 1:50 p.m. Oct. 3, when the Moorcroft Police Department was contacted by Moorcroft High School to report that Ritthaler had not returned from her open lunch period, according to a press release from the MPD.
Other students reported they observed the girl walking toward the Coffee Cup, which was confirmed by surveillance video.
Ritthaler appeared to be texting, and at 12:36 p.m. a gray two-door Jeep Cherokee pulled into the parking lot from Interstate 90 and the girl got into the Jeep’s passenger side, the press release said. The Jeep left and appeared to head southbound on Highway 16.
Local officials continued to search and the next day, Friday, a check of Ritthaler’s cellphone showed its last location was in Moorcroft and the phone had been deactivated. The time on the deactivation — 12:36 p.m. — appears to coincide with her getting in the Jeep. She also had been inactive on her social media accounts and hadn’t been in contact with her family or friends.
As Moorcroft police continued to work the case, they developed information Saturday that led them to Campbell, who was suspected of driving the Jeep and that he was in the Deadwood, South Dakota, area. Authorities there were notified and by Monday, the Meade County Sheriff’s Office had executed a search warrant on the home in South Dakota and found the body of a girl believed to be Ritthaler.