Slain girl's family faults search for her

Posted: October 26, 2012

Four days before Autumn Pasquale disappeared, one of the teenage brothers charged with killing her invited the 12-year-old girl to his house to look at a bicycle.

In a Facebook exchange on Oct. 16, Autumn, a BMX enthusiast, expressed interest in a photo of the bicycle Justin Robinson, 15, had posted on his Facebook page two months earlier.

"Thts sexy!" Autumn wrote.

According to a screen grab of the exchange, Justin wrote, "yess cme 2 my house." He also claimed to have a receipt for the bike from an area store.

Four days later, on Saturday, Autumn set off on her bike from her house in Clayton, never to be seen alive again.

As the chilling social-media exchange emerged Wednesday, a spokesman for Autumn's family blasted Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton's office, accusing it of being inept in organizing the search for the girl after she was reported missing.

"Right now there are so many things we think may have been wrong and done wrong that we would like to have the state attorney general come in and investigate," said Paul Spadafora, Autumn's great-uncle.

"They botched the search," he added. "These are the professionals we trust and pay."

His criticism extended to some fliers, saying they lacked a description of the girl.

Late Wednesday, the Attorney General's Office said in a statement it was seeking to get "full details from [Dalton] regarding the law enforcement response to this tragedy."

Dalton responded to the family's criticisms in a statement:

"From the time Autumn Pasquale was reported missing by her family at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, the law enforcement response was continuous. . . . The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office's investigative units poured their hearts and souls into this investigation and worked around the clock to find Autumn. I am proud of what they did under such difficult circumstances. This is a time to start the healing process and let the justice system move forward with this case."

He also said later his department would provide state authorities with "all the information regarding the responsible role law enforcement played in this investigation."

Officials said Autumn was lured to Justin's house on the 300 block of East Clayton Avenue with the prospect of getting parts for her bike. She was strangled under circumstances officials haven't spelled out.

Justin, a Clayton High School student, and his 17-year-old brother, Dante, a special-education student at the Bankbridge school in Sewell, were arrested and charged with her murder on Tuesday, hours after Autumn's body was found in a recycling container on the Robinsons' street Monday night. Police found her bike in their house.

They were supposed to appear in juvenile court for a detention hearing Wednesday, but their lawyers waived the proceeding to Friday. The prosecutor has said a decision on whether to seek to try the two youths as adults would be made in two weeks.

In a death notice, her family said: "Autumn was a tomboy, definitely not a girlie-girl."

"Autumn liked to draw and was a fan of the Phillies. She had many, many friends and was known for wearing mismatched socks and loved the color blue," the family remembered.

The Facebook exchange and others like it, since blocked, emerged Wednesday in a case in which investigators and residents scoured social media for clues to Autumn's whereabouts even as they searched for her through the streets and woods.

The Inquirer obtained the postings from screen grabs made by users of the social-media site in Clayton.

A spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on the posts, but said investigators were checking computer files related to the case.

Whether the Oct. 16 exchange or some other discussion prompted Autumn to go to Justin's house is not clear, but it appears that while they were not friends, they shared an interest in BMX bikes.

But Justin's interest extended beyond riding.

Both Justin and Dante were well-known to their neighbors on Clayton Avenue and, according to some residents, had a reputation for running a bike chop shop out of their house.

"Those kids were not well off; they did not have money," said Lisa Whartenby, who lives nearby. "I'd see Justin all the time. He went to all the football games. He was at the homecoming game Saturday." Another older brother is a member of the Clayton High School football team.

"He was a troublemaker," Raquel Ververde, 15, said of Justin, a fellow sophomore at Clayton High. But, she added, he also was polite.

"He was a nice guy. I would never expect him to do something like that," said Ververde.

While the search for Autumn intensified on Sunday, Justin had a Facebook exchange with Autumn's brother, A.J.

In a message to A.J. from Justin, only one word - "autumn" - appeared.

"What bout her," A.J asks.

Someone else then interjects: "why post her name then nothing else?"

"Right," A.J. adds.

Justin's response was enigmatic: "it was an accident the cop waz here & my brother did it," he wrote, according to a screen grab of the exchange.

Authorities have said they zeroed in on the Robinson boys after their mother alerted them to a Facebook posting by one of her sons. Officials have not disclosed the wording of that post.

Speaking out for the first time, Autumn's mother, Jennifer Cornwell, told the Associated Press that her daughter's killers "treated her like trash."

She said her daughter "was a tough girl, a tough cookie," and did not deserve the way she was treated in death.

Anthony Pasquale, Autumn's father, who has served as a postal worker in the town of 8,000, said he knew the suspects' family. "Everybody knows everybody, whether they're friends or acquaintances," he told the AP.

Both said they had been overwhelmed by the show of support from the community and beyond.

But in an interview with CBS-3, Anthony Pasquale faulted the search as being tardy.

"I felt like we were interviewed left and right, instead of looking for my daughter. I just want a faster response," he told the station.

Spadafora questioned why an Amber Alert was never issued and accused police of shoddy investigative work in not focusing their search more on Clayton.

The search for Autumn began Saturday night after her family reported that she had not returned home nine hours after leaving home on her bike. For two days, local, state, and federal law enforcement officials - along with hundreds of volunteers - searched South Jersey for signs of the Clayton Middle School student.

At a news conference Tuesday, Dalton said an Amber Alert was not issued because the report did not meet criteria, including evidence or a witness account of an abduction.

Against this backdrop of recrimination, Autumn was remembered Wednesday as the girl on the BMX bike.

She was a regular at the local bike and skate park and when not there could be spotted riding around town or jumping off ramps in a friend's driveway.

"She was all about her bike," said Michelle Doughty, the mother of one of Autumn's friends. "They were always going to the park. If they wanted to ride, I would drive behind them in my car."

In small-town Clayton, children walking or riding bikes around town unaccompanied are a familiar sight.

Heidi Keeny, the 31-year-old mother of one of Autumn's friends, said most residents know each other, instilling a sense of safety in parents they might not find in other towns.

"When I drive with my daughter she can name every person we pass," she said. "I think people will be more cautious now. I know there's more things I'll talk to my daughter about."

Funeral services for Autumn were set for Saturday, two days short of what would have been her 13th birthday.

A viewing is scheduled for 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Mary Mother of Mercy Parish, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 500 Greentree Rd., Glassboro. A Funeral Mass will follow at the church at 2 p.m.

Interment will be at Cedar Green Cemetery in Clayton.

A memorial fund has been set up in Autumn's name. Contributions can be made to the Autumn Pasquale Memorial Fund, c/o Fulton Bank, 35 N. Delsea Dr., Clayton, N.J. 08312.


Contact Joseph Gambardello

at 856-779-3844 or jgambardello@phillynews.com.

This story includes information from the Associated Press.

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