EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - First on 14 News, the lead detective in Aleah Beckerle's disappearance spoke out for the first time since her accused killer was acquitted of murder.
Just weeks before Aleah Beckerle went missing, Detective Melton was called to her home for a shots fired investigation. It involved her mother Cara's boyfriend, and Terrence's father, Demarco Roach.
"She couldn't speak but she could smile at you, she had a sippy cup in her hand."
A month later, Melton was back at the home trying to figure out who took her.
"In my stomach I got physically ill. I thought, oh that poor child. Immediately you start thinking, is she tied up to a tree? Is she in a hot corn field in the sun? Is she in the trunk of a car? That's why it became a race because we're trying to figure out what happened to this poor child. It was sickening."
Hundreds of tips and dozens of searches, very specific information led them to a Pike County landfill.
"The landfill search was probably the most promising we had. It was all false information. There were so many things that I thought were promising."
The search never stopped. Nine months later, a woman rummaging through a vacant home on South Bedford Avenue found Aleah.
"When she was found that night, I was able to look at that body, and I knew in my heart. We couldn't prove it yet until the coroner's office confirmation, but I said a prayer, thank God that we found her."
So, who did it? Who was to blame? Melton said they learned the man living next door to the house where Aleah was found had a stepson, Terrence Roach.
"The night that I learned about him living next door and being a stepbrother through relationships, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. And I thought, here's the connection, or at least the best lead we've had in a long, long time."
Two lengthy interviews between Roach and detectives when Melton said Roach confessed.
"In my opinion, this was young man that was hiding a horrible mistake that he had done, and eventually he wanted to get it off his chest. And he did. And he showed emotion. I think anybody that doubts his confessions, they're just simply wrong."
Melton said Aleah's mother Cara was a prime target during the months she was missing.
"I put her over the coals numerous times, the FBI interviewed her aggressively."
There were questions about why she didn't hear Aleah being taken when she was sleeping on the couch just feet from her bedroom.
"Above Cara and Carly on the couch, there was a window air conditioning running, it can be loud, she had a fan going, the TV was on. All this was going on and it made it clear that's why no one woke up. There are so many people that just cannot accept that, and I was one of those people myself up until the last interview. Then I came to the point, wow, she was not involved."
Just days after Aleah was found, Roach was arrested and charged in her murder. Melton felt he needed to apologize.
"I'll never forget the moment when I went to her house and talked to her and her grandmother and about the arrest. I looked at her and said, Cara, I'm sorry, I was wrong. I'll never forget she said, Melton, I've made a lot of poor choices, but she looked at me and said, I prayed and prayed that some day you would realize that I was not involved in the killing of my daughter. It really hit me that this community and myself raked her over the coals for months. And, now we have 12 jury members that failed her also and couldn't come to the right decision, guilty of murder. It's just really sad."