Sex offender arrested in Naomi Jones missing child case in Escambia County

by: Brittney Donovan, Action News Jax Updated:

Deputies arrested a convicted sex offender in the death of a 12-year-old Escambia County girl.

Naomi Jones, 12, was missing for five days before her body was found Monday in a stream about four miles from her Pensacola home.

Deputies announced an arrest in the case Thursday morning.

Robert Letroy Howard, 38, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and failure to register as a sex offender, deputies said.

Deputies said they first made contact with Howard during a neighborhood canvas of where Naomi lived shortly after she went missing.

Deputies learned he was a sex offender from Alabama who was visiting his girlfriend's house near where Naomi lived.

Howard could not give an alibi of where he was when Naomi went missing, deputies said.

He told investigators he was not in Florida at the time. 

Investigators determined after Naomi's body was found that Howard was in the area when she went missing.

Video surveillance showed Howard’s vehicle in the area where Naomi’s body was found Monday.

Deputies said Howard kidnapped and killed Naomi then dumped her body.

Deputies believe he acted alone.

Howard is a former convict from Alabama. He served 15 years in prison after he was convicted for two counts of sexual assault and rape in 1999.

Deputies said additional warrants are pending.

Deputies: Social media may have played a role in girl's death

Escambia County Sheriff's Office said Jones was using the app Marco Polo, a video walkie-talkie app, before she was murdered. Marco Polo is similar to Snapchat, except users can hold on to videos and revisit them whenever they like.

Investigators said they developed persons of interest in the case after they found conversations of sexual nature on the app. Detectives have not said if Howard was having conversations with Jones on the app.

Action News Jax law and safety expert Dale Carson said investigators looked at Jones’ social media activity because they know it can often lead to a suspect.

“Some of it can be … frightening because it’s individuals who, when you check their footprint through the internet, you realize these people are in other countries maybe involved in sex trafficking,” Carson said.

Investigators are looking into Howard and Jones met. They are warning parents about letting their kids roam freely online.

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