Arrest warrant: Kayla was placed in well within 30 minutes of her disappearance

Published on Tuesday, 8 November 2016 12:06 - Written by CORY MCCOY,

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The warrant in the arrest of Gustavo Zavala-Garcia reveals only about 30 minutes passed from when Kayla was reported to have gone missing and the time investigators believe she was placed in the well, where she was discovered four days later.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said Kayla is believed to have died sometime late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

The warrant indicates Zavala-Garcia, 24, who has been charged with capital murder in the case, arrived at Bullard First Assembly at 7 p.m. Tuesday and left the church with his almost 3-year-old daughter about 7:35 p.m., when the vehicle is recorded on video surveillance footage leaving the driveway. 

Investigators believe Kayla was placed in the well sometime between 7:47 p.m. and 8:04 p.m., according to the affidavit. Smith said the well was 25 to 28 feet deep with six to eight feet of water.

During the press conference, Smith recapped what happened Saturday afternoon, the day Kayla was found. In addition to a large volunteer search effort, Smith said investigators from multiple agencies also were conducting a search the same day.

Following an investigative lead, law enforcement arrived at a property on Farm-to-Market Road 2493, or Old Jacksonville Highway, where Zavala-Garcia resided and they were given permission by the defendant to search the property, which led to Kayla's discovery.

Smith would not provide information concerning a possible cause of death or motive. 

During a polygraph examination, Zavala-Garcia answered yes to questions regarding whether he caused Kayla's death, but then recanted his answer, according to the affadavit.

The affidavit also stated that a church member was entering the lobby and saw Zavala-Garcia exiting the church with Kayla and his daughter. Zavala-Garcia told a church member that Kayla returned to the lobby after.

Zavala-Garcia left the church in a 2006 Chevy Silverado registered to his wife and later was seen on surveillance footage in a truck belonging to his employer, according to the affidavit. Smith said all personal vehicles and those owned by his employer had either been searched or would be. The affadavit states that the employer was unaware whether Zavala-Garcia had used one of the vehicles because the business shop was unlocked and keys were in the vehicles.

Smith said Zavala-Garcia's wife and daughter were not at the property during the search of the property, as they were taken off site to be interviewed. He said the wife was interviewed at least twice and said investigators do not believe she had any involvement.

"We feel we have got a very good handle of what's going on ... about what happened as far as a timeline through interviews of the defendant," Smith said.

Smith also clarified details into Zavala-Garcia's immigration status, saying the suspect was arrested in 2014 on a family violence charge after he was accused of hitting his wife. He pleaded guilty in that case, was released after serving time and placed on an immigration hold, but was issued a personal recognizance bond that allowed him to go free on the immigration hold. 

He appeared without representation at an initial court date for the immigration matter in June, and another date was set for the future. Zavala-Garcia was awaiting that hearing.

Zavala-Garcia is being held in the Smith County Jail in a separation cell. Smith said he has been placed on 10-minute watches, meaning a jailer must check his cell at least once every 10 minutes.

During Tuesday's press conference District Attorney Matt Bingham praised investigators for the work they've done in the case. 

"I want to let the community know what an outstanding job the men and women of Smith County have done with this investigation,"  Bingham said.  "It's hard as you sit in this room to understand the emotional toll on these men and women. I couldn't be more proud to have the opportunity to do what I do to work with them."

Bingham asked the community to continue to pray for the investigators and first responders who saw horrific things in this case.

"It's hard to explain what it's like to see a fireman bring up the body of a dead 10-year-old," Bingham said. "It's emotional to me, not just what we saw, but how these men and women stepped up."

"I would ask you to keep these men and women in your prayers," he added. "Let these men and women know you support them. The people of Smith County could not have any better."

Bingham said investigators are approaching this case like Kayla is their daughter.

"Kayla has become a part of everyone in this community," he said. "Her story has become our story. She has become our daughter, and we are going to get justice for her. We will get justice for Kayla."

Bingham said it's been important to share information with the community throughout the search and recovery, but as the case enters investigative stage, it will be important to protect information. He said Tuesday's news conference likely would be the last, as investigators and prosecutors are interested in protecting critical evidence that only the suspect would know.

"There are some things we can't tell the community for the good of this case, and I know the community understands that and supports that," Bingham said.




6:55 p.m - The time Gustavo Zavala-Garcia tells investigators he leaves his home in the 22000 block of FM 2493

7 p.m.- The time Zavala-Garcia says he arrives at Bullard First Assembly Church with his 3-year-old daughter. He tells investigators he worships for about 30 minutes before leaving. 

7:35 p.m. - Zavala-Garcia's truck leaves the church parking lot, according to video surveillance footage

7:51-7:55 p.m. - Kayla discovered missing

7:47 p.m. to 8:04 p.m. - Zavala-Garcia arrives in the vicinity of his home, according to cell phone records. This 17-minute window is when investigators believe Zavala-Garcia concealed Kayla in the well.

8:04 p.m. - Zavala-Garcia enters the house, according to his wife

Midnight - Amber Alert issued for Kayla


Multiple law enforcement agencies search the area near Bullard First Assembly Church. 


6 a.m. - Volunteers begin arriving at Bullard High School to help in the search effort for Kayla. About 600 volunteers spend the day searching 1,400 to 1,500 acres.

6:30 p.m. - Police activity reported near the property in the 22000 block of FM 2493

7 p.m. - Cherokee County Sheriff James Campbell confirms possible remains found on the property


1:30 p.m. - Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith confirms Kayla's body was found in a well on the property. He says a male relative is in custody on an immigration hold. 

5:15 p.m. - Hundreds gather for a prayer vigil at Jack Elementary, where Kayla was fourth-grader.

6:30 p.m. - Prayer vigil held at The Brook Hill School


Zavala-Garcia charged with capital murder and remains in the Smith County Jail on $10 million bond. 


Zavala-Garcia arraigned on capital murder charge.