The body of Leah Costa, the 15-year-old Buckeye, Arizona, girl who went missing Christmas Eve, was found Monday near Tonopah by Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies, authorities say. The teen’s 17-year-old boyfriend, who the family says ran off with her and later was found Saturday evening disoriented and walking along highway 10 in torn clothing, has been accused of her murder.
The Arizona Republic reported Dec. 31 that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) booked the 17-year-old, identified as Robert Duffell, into the Fourth Avenue Jail in Phoenix late Tuesday. Duffell was arrested Tuesday morning without incident on suspicion of second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to Officer Chris Hegstrom of the MCSO.
The arrest was made after law enforcement found Leah Costa’s body Monday night south of I-10 near 411th Avenue, according to Hegstrom. The 15-year-old had been fatally shot in the head. Authorities had been alerted to the area by campers at Saddle Mountain Recreational Area who reportedly saw Duffell walking in the area.
Robert Duffel had been found wandering disoriented and dehydrated down highway 10 Saturday evening by a Department of Public Safety officer, according to KTNX-TV in Phoenix. He told the officer that he last saw Costa at a TA Travel Center. He could not explain his condition or what, if anything, had happened to his girlfriend.
Spokesman Hegstrom said that Duffell, while being questioned by MCSO deputies Tuesday, had admitted to being with Costa. “He did admit to being involved in the shooting and to having shot her,” Hegstrom added.
“We do believe she was shot and killed on the 26th,” Hegstrom said, according to KPHO in Phoenix. Hegstrom also admitted that a motive for the murder was as yet undetermined. The investigation was ongoing, he said.
Costa’s family said, according to police, that Leah Costa had run away from her grandmother’s home on Christmas Eve. She had been accompanied by her boyfriend, Robert Duffell. It wasn’t the first time the teen had run away. According to a neighbor, Joe Johnston, she had run away twice before in the year the family had lived in Buckeye. He recalled that the first time she’d run away, a friend had found her and brought her home.
He described the teen as very outgoing. “She was too friendly with everybody,” Johnson told the Republic. He spent some time on Monday posting missing person flyers of Leah Costa in the southwest Valley around Phoenix. “She loved talking to anyone. She was a nice kid — a really nice girl.”