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Northwoods Community Reeling Over Alayna Ertl's Death

MOTLEY, Minn. (WCCO) -- The contrast can't be more striking: the county jail where Zachary Anderson sits, contemplating the horrors of the charges against him, and a community of people forced to trade solitude for sadness.

"I couldn't sleep Saturday night, just thought about it," said Craig Speldrick, who lives inside the Wilderness Park Private Estates, where 5-year-old Alayna Ertl's body was found on Saturday.

"I decided something had to be done," he said.

Speldrick built a tasteful timber cross for the little girl, who was kidnapped from her home in Watkins, sexually assaulted and strangled. Anderson, 25, of Coon Rapids, is charged with her murder.

The cross has become a place where others in the northwestern Minnesota community are now purging their grief.

Folks like Ray Schultes and Anna Cash stopped by Wednesday to pay respects to the child they never knew. Ertl's body was found in a swamp 80 miles north of her home.

"The community's sadness here is like they lived here," Cash said. "Doesn't matter where you're from, it happens close to home."

Schultes actually recalls seeing Anderson briefly at last Saturday's annual meeting.

"He came down to the clubhouse, you know, all muddy and dirty, like he had just come out of a swamp," Schultes said.

Now, the northwoods community is left in mourning, over a crime so unthinkable.

"It's heartbreaking," Speldrick said. "She'll never be forgotten up here."

A visitation for Ertl is planned for Thursday in Watkins. Her funeral is Friday.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Ertl's family pay for funeral expenses.

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