DENISE LAVOIE and RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press writers
BOSTON (AP) " A Texas woman whose 6-year-old son was found dead last weekend in Maine stands accused of killing the boy and dumping his body alongside a dirt road where it was discovered, authorities said.
Julianne McCrery, 42, of Irving, Texas, was charged with second-degree murder Wednesday in the death of her son, Camden Hughes. The police apprehension of her earlier in the day set off a rapid-fire chain of events in which jurisdiction shifted from Maine, where the boy's body was discovered, to Massachusetts, where McCrery was found and questioned, and finally to New Hampshire, where authorities believe the boy died and the formal charges were ultimately filed.
McCrery was due to be arraigned Thursday morning in Concord, Mass., on a charge of being a fugitive from justice stemming from the murder charge, said New Hampshire Attorney General Michael A. Delaney.
Preliminary autopsy findings showed that the cause of Camden's death was asphyxiation and the manner of death was homicide, according to Maine's chief medical examiner. The homicide remains under investigation.
Texas public records show that McCrery was arrested at least twice on prostitution charges and once for possession with intent to distribute drugs. In 2009, she was sentenced to one year in prison for a misdemeanor conviction of prostitution. In 2004, she was sentenced to three years of probation for a felony conviction of possession of a controlled substance.
The voicemail was full for a Texas phone listing for McCrery.
Her son died Saturday, the same day his body was discovered by a local resident in South Berwick, Maine, near the state line with New Hampshire, officials said. He had not been reported missing, and amid several frustrating days seeking his identity, Maine State Police had released a computer-generated image showing a boy with dirty blond hair and blues eyes.
Christian von Atzigen, of Irving, Texas, said he told police he recognized the boy as the son of McCrery, a woman he and his wife have been close friends with since she and his wife met in school 15 years ago.
"We didn't want to believe it," von Atzigen said.
"Julie's a good person. If you would ever ask me if she would harm a hair on that precious little boy's head, I would say never," he told The Associated Press. "She loves that boy."
Von Atzigen said that after McCrery and her husband divorced, he and his wife remained friends with both of them. He said Camden was a happy boy, and he never heard McCrery raise her voice to him.
"I never even saw her discipline him," he said. "He was just a great little boy, just fun, a good kid, smart as a whip," he said.
Von Atzigen said he last saw McCrery on Easter, when she came to his house to get a part to fix her hot water heater. While she was there, she dropped off some of Camden's toys for his 2-year-old son, he said.
He said he doesn't know why McCrery was in Maine.
"My wife talked to her a couple of days ago and everything seemed OK," he said. "There was no mention of her going anywhere."
It's extremely unusual for a missing child to go unreported. Similar cases happened only twice over the past two years, said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"In the vast, vast majority of these, there's someone, a parent or grandparent, searching for that child," Allen said.
On Wednesday, a telephone tip led police to McCrery at a highway rest stop in Chelmsford, Mass., said state police spokesman David Procopio.
In Maine, the case has led to an outpouring of emotion. Several hundred people attended a candlelight vigil in the boy's memory Tuesday night in front of the South Berwick town hall.
Near where the boy was found, people have placed three crosses, dozens of stuffed animals, candles, flowers, a baseball and other children's items. A framed piece of paper says, "God Bless This Little Boy."
Bruce and Laurie Ralph, who live down the street from where the body was found, placed a stuffed animal on the site.
"The whole community has come together and has feelings for this boy, who nobody seems to know who he is," Laurie Ralph said Wednesday as she and her husband visited the site. "You hear of missing children all the time, but when it happens in your hometown " and on your own street " it's scarier."
Contreras reported from Concord, Mass. Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Clarke Canfield in Alfred, Maine; and Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H.; contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.