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Missing Utah girl's body found buried less than a block from her home

The search for a missing 5-year-old girl in Utah has ended in tragedy and with her uncle facing murder charges.

SALT LAKE CITY — Police say they have found a body believed to be a 5-year-old Utah girl taken from her home and killed by her uncle five days ago.

Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said Wednesday that the body believed to be Elizabeth "Lizzy" Shelley was found in a heavily wooded area less than a block from her home.

Jensen said her 21-year-old uncle told his lawyer where the body was hidden. A positive identification is pending.

Jensen says prosecutors agreed to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for the map provided by suspect Alex Whipple.

The discovery came hours after Whipple was charged with aggravated murder, child kidnapping and other counts.

Whipple's lawyer Shannon Demler says his client knows he did something inexcusable but wanted the family to find some kind of closure.

"He knows he did something that's inexcusable," said defense attorney Shannon Demler, who led officers to the body using information from his client. "He wanted at least the family to know ... she had passed away so that they could get some kind of closure."

In previous interviews with police, Whipple didn't acknowledge involvement in the disappearance but alluded frequently to "how evil the world we live in is" and talked about his struggles as a child, prosecutors said in court documents.

He also told police alcohol makes him "black out" and sometimes do "criminal things," the documents said.

Whipple was charged with aggravated murder, child kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a human body, a charge that relates to steps taken to hide the body, Jensen said.

The child's blood was found on Whipple's watch and sweatshirt, authorities said, and his handprint was discovered on the PVC pipe. Nearby was a broken knife taken from the family's kitchen bearing the blood of the girl.

A teal skirt with lace that she was last seen wearing was found "hastily buried" near the pipe and knife, the charges state.

The search for Lizzy began Saturday morning, when her frantic mother Jessica Whipple reported the girl's bed was empty and the front door was wide open. Also missing was Alex Whipple, who had slept on the couch after a night of drinking with his sister and her boyfriend.

Jessica Whipple didn't see her younger brother often but decided to help him when he asked her to pick him up, said Bill Whipple, their grandfather.

Credit: Logan City Police Department
Five-year-old Elizabeth Shelley was discovered missing from her family's northern Utah home at about 10 a.m. Saturday and she was last seen sleeping at about 2 a.m.

He said Alex Whipple had a difficult childhood but had never showed violent tendencies.

"I would never, ever in a million years have thought he was capable of harming such a cute little girl," Bill Whipple said. "I knew he was a thief, but I never labeled him as a murderer."

Alex Whipple's mother left the family when he was young, leaving his father to raise three children alone while he worked as a truck driver. The young man spent time in foster homes and didn't graduate from high school.

Police found him Saturday afternoon about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the family home.

He had a pipe used for narcotics, a beer and a baseball bat, though it's not thought to be a weapon used on the girl, according to charging documents.

He had blood-colored stains on his pants and "filthy" hands that he attempted to lick clean, police said. After first denying he'd been at his sister's house, he later said he left in the early morning or a walk alone.

Whipple has a criminal record that includes a 2016 assault, possession of a stolen vehicle and drug-related charges.

He had been on probation and making progress but began missing appointments at the beginning of the year and dropped out of touch in April, a probation agent said in court documents.

The girl disappeared in Logan, a small city located in a picturesque mountain valley near the Idaho border about 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Salt Lake City.

"This is a 5-year-old girl and she's still missing and that's not easy for anybody," Jensen said, holding back tears. "We want to find her, we want the family to have what they deserve, and that is closure and/or Lizzy back in their home."

Alex Whipple is scheduled to make a court appearance Monday.

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Associated Press writer Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this story.

Credit: Cache County Sheriff's Office
This Saturday, May 25, 2019, booking photo provided by Cache County Sheriff's Office shows Alex Whipple. He has been charged with the murder of his five-year-old niece.

The search for Lizzy began Saturday morning, when her frantic mother reported the girl's bed was empty and the front door was wide open. Also missing was Whipple, who had slept on the couch after a night of drinking with his sister and her boyfriend.

Whipple was found several hours later about 10 miles from the family home. His hands were "filthy," he had cuts on his fingers and dark, blood-colored stains on his pants, authorities said.

He also had a pipe used for narcotics as well as a baseball bat and a beer, according to charging documents. When handcuffs were later removed, he began licking his hands and trying to wipe them clean, police said. Authorities don't consider the bat to be part of the disappearance.

Whipple agreed to talk to police and initially denied he had been at his sister's house the night Lizzy went missing. He later said he had visited then left for a walk early in the morning.

Whipple has a criminal record that includes a 2016 assault on a roommate, possession of a stolen vehicle and drug-related charges.

He had been on probation and making progress but began missing appointments at the beginning of the year and dropped out of touch in April, a probation agent said in court documents.

Police were still scouring mounds of garbage and mulch for the girl's body in Logan, a small city located in a picturesque mountain valley near the Idaho border about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City.

"This is a 5-year-old girl and she's still missing and that's not easy for anybody," Jensen said, holding back tears. "We want to find her, we want the family to have what they deserve, and that is closure and/or Lizzy back in their home."

Whipple is scheduled to make a court appearance Monday.