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Teen-ager charged with strangling boy who went door-to-door

October 1, 1997

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) _ A 15-year-old boy was charged today with murdering an 11-year-old who disappeared while selling merchandise door-to-door for a school fund-raiser.

The victim was sexually assaulted and strangled in the suspect’s home in Jackson Township, Ocean County Prosecutor E. David Millard said.

Edward Peter Werner disappeared Saturday. Tracking dogs found his body late Monday night in woods he frequently used as a shortcut from his neighborhood to the suspect’s nearby neighborhood.

The suspect, whose name was withheld by authorities because he is a juvenile, was charged with murder and aggravated sexual assault.

Millard says he has 30 days to decide whether to seek to try the teen as an adult. Under New Jersey law, juveniles cannot receive the death penalty; adults can but the state has not executed anyone in recent years.

The suspect apparently had no prior contact or relationship with Edward, Millard said. He described the incident as a ``chance encounter″ and refused to say anything else about a possible motive for the crime.

Edward was carrying cash when he went to the suspect’s house in an adjoining neighborhood that is ``very safe″ and ``a good area,″ Millard said.

The prosecutor would not discuss many details of the crime, including whether the suspect answered the door, what sort of device was used in the strangling or whether the body was fully clothed when it was found.

Millard said the accused youth’s parents cooperated with investigators.

The suspect was being held in the Ocean County Juvenile Detention Center, Millard said, following an initial appearance this morning in juvenile court.

Earlier, a source told The Associated Press that police officers went to sneaker stores in the area with a photograph showing a shoe print on the bare back of the boy’s body. The officers apparently were trying to identify the type of shoe that left the print, which appeared as a red mark on the skin in the close-up photo.

As investigators canvassed the neighborhood, searched one home and scoured the woods where the body was found, the boy’s family, schoolmates and a stunned community struggled to deal with the killing of an outgoing and polite youngster.

Many parents vowed to keep their children indoors and under supervision.

``We all agree that none of the kids are going to be allowed out to play until they find out who did this,″ said Cheryl Kokich, who lives near where Edward’s body was found and recalled often seeing him riding his bicycle alone.

``Everyone’s scared now, and with good reason,″ said Brandi Jarmolowich, 23, who has a 6 1/2-month-old daughter.

At Christa McAuliffe Middle School, where Edward was one of the top sellers in the periodic PTA fund-raisers, some students were so upset Tuesday morning that their parents took them home.

Many others turned to the 19 counselors brought in to help them with their grief, said schools spokeswoman Stephanie Yusko.

``The school is trying to remain as normal as possible,″ she said, although all after-school activities and a family science night Tuesday evening were canceled.

The district also suspended fund-raisers like the one in which Edward had hit the streets in hopes of winning a pair of walkie-talkies for sales of candy, nuts and wrapping paper.

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