FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Authorities used cellphone records to track down an airman who they believe shot and killed a Sunday school teacher and left her body off a forest road in northern Arizona, a sheriff’s detective said.
Mark Gooch left his dorm room at Luke Air Force base where he’s stationed and traveled more than 400 miles (643 kilometers) to northwestern New Mexico, where Sasha Krause lived and worked in a Mennonite community. Coconino County Sheriff’s Detective Lauren Jones said Thursday that Gooch returned to the base near Phoenix less than a day later.
In that time, authorities say Gooch kidnapped Krause, fractured her skull and shot her in the back of the head. A camper found Krause’s body outside Flagstaff on Feb. 24, more than a month after the 27-year-old was reported missing. Her wrists were bound with duct tape and she was facedown in a clearing in the forest, Jones said.
Gooch, 21, pleaded not guilty earlier this week to first-degree murder, kidnapping and theft charges.
Authorities found that Gooch’s cellphone was the only one communicating with the same cell towers as Krause’s phone before hers dropped off west of Farmington, New Mexico, Jones said. Gooch, who has lived in Wisconsin, also told authorities that no one else had been using his phone at the time.
Gooch’s attorney, Matthew Springer, said that doesn’t mean his client is responsible for Krause’s death.
The DNA gathered from Krause’s neck and underneath her fingernails could belong to someone else, he said. Prosecutors also can’t definitively say the .22-caliber bullet collected at the scene was fired from a rifle that authorities seized from the home of one of Gooch’s friends.
Prosecutor Ammon Barker said even without the gun, there’s enough evidence to support the charges.
Gooch remains in custody after a Coconino County judge ruled Thursday he was not eligible for release on bond.
It’s still unclear if Gooch personally knew Krause, who was originally from Texas, but authorities said he once had been a part of the Mennonite community and told detectives he went to Farmington in search of a new church.
Jones said text messages between Gooch and his brothers showed an apparent disdain for Mennonites.