29 2 LINKEDIN 1 COMMENTMORE

Interviews with friends and acquaintances of the man accused of abducting and slaying a 10-year-old girl here are beginning to answer the question: Who is Craig Michael Wood?

The acquaintances and friends speak of an elementary school teaching assistant, a coach of boys' sports and avid deer hunter who never married or had children. He had no criminal past, save for a guilty plea in his early 20s to marijuana possession and a misdemeanor charge about a decade later to illegally killing a wild turkey.

They also unanimously report no clues that the 45-year-old Springfield man would hurt anyone.

James Dishman's memories of Wood are of the quiet man who was his son's friend at Marshfield High School, about 25 miles northeast of here, a man who loved animals and played in a bluegrass band.

On Wednesday, Dishman learned that Wood had been arrested and charged with the murder of 10-year-old Hailey Owens after allegedly abducting her off the street near her home.

"In my mind, he's soft-hearted," said Dishman, who last saw Wood in the fall. "He's a gentle type of man. He liked people. He liked animals. I can't hardly fathom this."

Wood played in a bluegrass band named Uncle Fudd after a line in a country music song called Tennessee Stud. Wood played the mandolin. Dishman's son, Kenny, played the guitar.

Dishman said Wood and his son played football at Marshfield High.

"They weren't elite players," Dishman said. "They just had fun."

Springfield Public Schools say Wood worked full time as a teaching assistant supervising in-school suspension and as a coach at Pleasant View Elementary and Middle School and made about $17,000 last year.

Wood was two years ahead of Jeff Ward at Marshfield High but they became friends in the mid 1980s, when they started a rock band together.

Their band, High Intensity, practiced and played together for two years. During that time, Ward and Wood spent a lot of time hanging out.

"I got to know him through music," said Ward, co-owner of Priority Pest Control in Springfield. "He was actually very intelligent. He had a steady girlfriend (at the time) and was a typical, athletic-type guy."

Ward said they lost touch but have run into each other several times in the past decade. Every time, Wood seemed like his old self. Ward has connected with other old friends this week who shared his disbelief.

Ward said Wood never married or had children and didn't mention a girlfriend when they saw each other recently.

"The Craig that we knew has been long gone, and there may be more coming out that we're going to drop our jaws at," he said. "When we found out we were stunned. To think of all the time we spent together and to think that he snapped."

Wood started out playing guitar in rock bands and then transitioned, in recent years, to bluegrass, Ward said.

"He wasn't spectacular but he could hold his own," Ward said.

Ward said Wood was a "huge deer hunter" and went hunting every year with mutual friends. While Wood rarely left the woods empty handed, this recent season was different.

"Craig didn't get a deer this year," he said.

At Wood's home here, a rosary hangs from one of the black shutters. The light on the front porch was on Thursday morning.

Wood owns the 1940 bungalow, appraised at $73,400 in Greene County property records, with his parents Jim and Regina of Ash Grove, Mo.

Kim Hefling lives across the street. She was at a college class Tuesday night when she got the Amber alert on her phone.

"I feel sad for Hailey, and I just can't get that out of my mind," Hefling said. "I think, 'What would have happened if I had been there that night? Would I have seen something?' "

Another neighbor, Phaedra Baumgardner, was home. She and her husband were taking their 3-year-old daughter to a nearby playground.

"I didn't hear anything," Baumgardner said. "I didn't see anything out of the normal. I just makes me mad that I didn't. I always hear about neighbors that aren't friendly, and I think I just became one."

Tom Mezzacapa went to high school with Wood. They were altar boys together at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. He admired the way Wood stuck up for his younger brother.

"I always looked up to him," Mezzacapa said. "He showed me the ropes as an altar boy."

Mezzacapa said he can't understand what happened.

"It breaks my heart," said Mezzacapa, who has two adult daughters. "The whole damn thing."

Steve Childers, city administrator in Ozark, Mo., has known Wood since high school.

"This is a terrible thing that happened," he said. "I'm in complete shock and I feel terrible for the entire community."

He said he can't make sense of what's happened.

"I think I'm like everybody else," he said. "We're feeling shock, dismay, disgust, anger, and all the other emotions that come with this."

He spoke to a reporter briefly and added he didn't have anything else to say for now.

Wood will be arraigned in court Friday, but he won't appear in person. The family has hired Joe Passanise of the Law Offices of Dee Wampler and Joe Passanise.

The criminal case against Wood has been assigned to Judge Dan Imhof of Missouri's 31st Circuit Court, and Wood is scheduled to appear by video for his arraignment. Wood is charged with first-degree murder, child kidnapping and armed criminal action.

Before that arraignment, and after, Wood will remain in jail. A judge agreed with prosecutors' recommendation that Wood be held without bond.

"Defendant sought out a child victim, abducted her, and killed her," the bond document says. "Defendant is dangerous and there are no conditions of release which will protect the community."

Contributing: Stephen Herzog, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader

29 2 LINKEDIN 1 COMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://on.ksdk.com/1brad1l