A convicted sex offender from Alabama was arrested on Thursday on charges of kidnapping and killing Naomi Jones, the 12-year-old girl whose body was found in a creek near her home.
During a press conference Thursday, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan named Robert Letroy Howard, 38, as the suspect. Sheriff Morgan said that Howard’s girlfriend lived in the same apartment complex as Jones’ family.
“We’ve found our monster,” Morgan announced.
Howard is from East Brewton, Alabama. According to records obtained by PEOPLE, he was convicted in 1999 on two counts of sexual assault and rape. The victims were two adult women. He served 15 years in an Alabama prison, and is listed on the state’s Sex Offender registry.
The girl vanished on May 31 after leaving her apartment. She was missing for five days until her body was found by fishermen in a creek near her home.
According to Sheriff Morgan, investigators canvassed the neighborhood and encountered Howard. “He gave false information,” Morgan says, claiming that Howard claimed to have been in Alabama when Naomi disappeared.
But, Morgan says, surveillance video told a different story. He said that Howard’s vehicle was seen near the creek where the body was found. Police interviewed Howard and arrested him shortly after.
Howard has been charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and failing to register as a sex offender. He is being held without bond and has not yet entered a plea. He is being represented by a public defender but PEOPLE was not immediately able to contact his attorney. He will return to court on June 30.
Howard’s sister, Althea Walker, defended her brother in an interview with CBS affiliate WKRG. “I want people to know he is not a monster,” she said.
But the sheriff’s office says they’re convinced they have the right suspect.
“Over the past week, we haven’t had many good days,” the sheriff said in the press conference. “Today is a good day. Today we arrested the killer of a child. We hope that this arrest can provide some level of comfort to the family and to the community.”