CAYCE, S.C. — A 6-year-old girl who disappeared from her front yard after school was killed by a neighbor who then killed himself, authorities said Tuesday.
Faye Marie Swetlik died of asphyxiation just hours after she was abducted, Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher told reporters Tuesday, refusing to say if she was strangled or suffocated.
Faye’s body was found nearly three days later in woods near her home and had been put there just hours earlier, Fisher said.
“We believe that Faye had not been in that location for a very long time at all,” Sgt. Evan Antley with the Cayce Department of Public Safety said.
Between that time, investigators had spoken with the suspect. Coty Taylor let them search his home a few doors down from the girl. They saw nothing to suggest the girl was ever there, Cayce Public Safety Director Byron Snellgrove said.
Shortly after the girl's body was found, authorities said, they were called to Taylor's home where he was found dead on his back porch, covered in blood.
Taylor, 30, slit his own throat, Fisher said in a statement released after Tuesday's news conference, in which the coroner only wanted to talk in front of cameras about the girl.
Fisher also refused to release any details about the condition of the girl’s body or disclose any other way she might have been injured out of respect for her family.
“My heart like so many others breaks for you,” Fisher said. “No parent should ever know such pain.”
Snellgrove also didn’t talk about why Taylor, with no criminal record, would have kidnapped the girl. He said last week that Taylor did not know the girl or her family.
“DNA was tested and did connect and link the residence, the deceased male and Faye to that location," Snellgrove said.
The girl was last seen alive playing in her Cayce front yard after getting off the school bus on Feb. 10. More than 200 officers searched over three days for her, knocking on every door in her neighborhood and checking every vehicle going in and out.
They knocked on Taylor’s door, too, the day before he killed himself, Snellgrove said.
“He was cooperative and gave consent to agents to look through the house. Those agents did not see anything that alerted them to believe he had knowledge or was in any way involved in Faye’s disappearance at that time," Snellgrove said.
The clue that cracked the case came from a trash can. Investigators followed a trash truck going around the neighborhood Thursday and sifted through every can as it was emptied. Inside Taylor’s can, Snellgrove said, they found a rain boot matching one Faye was wearing and a ladle full of dirt.
Snellgrove said he ordered a search near the area and personally found the girl’s body which was “moved in the shadow of the night.”
Taylor had a roommate who was not home much while the girl was missing, said Snellgrove, adding the roommate appeared to know nothing about the abduction.
“It appears (Taylor) is the sole perpetrator of the crime," Snellgrove said of Taylor.
The girl’s disappearance shocked Cayce, a town of about 13,000 just west of Columbia, the state capital. Several prayer vigils were held while she was missing and after her body was found.
More than 100 people came out in pouring rain for a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening at Cayce City Hall. Many wiped away tears as Snellgrove lit the first candle and city council members passed the flame around.
Snellgrove appeared to choke up while announcing the girl’s death just hours after finding her body.
“This was not just an investigation or a case to us. Faye Swetlik quickly grabbed all of our hearts,” Snellgrove said Tuesday.
Police said their goal was to search every home in the Churchill Heights neighborhood and talk to every resident, which meant going to more than 280 homes, churches and businesses.
They also received almost 300 leads just from the hotline set up for Faye and 756 megabytes of video. Officers said all leads were followed until they were exhausted.
Fisher pointed to the people of Cayce for keeping her and everyone else going during this difficult time.
“In a time of shattered hope and incomprehensible sadness, when we must face the worst of what people are capable of, you have helped to restore our faith in humanity and remind us of the strength of our community,” Fisher said.
Faye’s death impacted thousands of people across the Carolinas and beyond. Dozens of people showed up for a candlelight vigil in her neighborhood. They left teddy bears, balloons and candles at the memorial there.
In another emotional tribute, dozens of law enforcement officers escorted Faye’s body from her autopsy in Charleston to a funeral home in Lexington.
The girl had started school at Springdale Elementary in August and made an immediate impact, bringing sunshine as she bounded into school for breakfast and finding a bunch of friends, Principal Hope Vrana said at the vigil.
“Everyone quickly grew to love her smile, her joyful spirit and her very kind heart," Vrana added.
A public memorial for Faye will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Trinity Baptist Church in Cayce. Her family wants the service to be child-friendly and is asking attendees to wear pink and purple to honor Faye.
Fisher said her heart broke for the girl's family, who lost a child as she simply played in her front yard.
“You and Faye will remain in my heart forever," the coroner said.
This is an ongoing investigation. Check back with wsoctv.com for more information.
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