Law enforcement authorities in Florida say they have recovered the body a young mother who had been missing since Friday. A family friend is now charged with murder.
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday that 23-year-old Perrin Damron, last seen on the night of Sept. 3, was found dead in the Okeechobee Waterway canal in the Manatee Creek area.
“Her death is being treated as a homicide and an arrest has been made in the case,” the sheriff’s office announced in a Facebook post. “This investigation is still very active and information is still being processed.”
Approximately two hours later, the sheriff’s office confirmed that the suspect who was taken into custody was 45-year-old Eric William Westergard, of Jupiter Farms. Westergard was taken into custody at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Monday.
The sheriff’s office said that Damron was supposed to meet up with the father of her 2-year-old child on Saturday, but the man became worried when she did not show up. He had been caring for the child since Friday, the sheriff said. Damron’s family told investigators it was “unlike her” to stand up a friend and filed a missing person report. The sheriff, noting that the woman’s vehicle was accounted for, asked anyone who had seen her to call 911 immediately.
Investigators soon learned that Damron had been spotted with Westergard, who Sheriff William Snyder described as a friend of Damron’s mother.
During a press briefing on Monday, Snyder said his office was “very suspicious” of Westergard “from the very beginning” of the investigation, emphasizing that the man had made several incriminating statements after officers found physical evidence in his home that reportedly connected him to the crime. Snyder declined to elaborate on what that evidence was or how it connected Westergard to Damron’s murder, saying the investigation was still ongoing.
An early break in the case came when detectives received video evidence from a Ring doorbell camera that allegedly showed Westergard near Damron’s home after he picked her up from the residence, authorities said. Snyder asked for anyone with possible video of Westergard and Damron to please provide footage to his office, saying “every piece of evidence counts.”
The sheriff did not provide a possible motive for the murder or discuss how Damron was killed, but he did say Westergard led investigators to an overpass on the Okeechobee waterway where they found Damron’s body.
“I am always profoundly sad when someone loses their life in violence,” Snyder said. “This case obviously did not end the way we wanted it to.”
According to a report from TC Palm, Westergard is known in the Palm Beach County area for being the operator of an animal sanctuary that a kangaroo escaped from in September 2018. Storm, the 5-year-old animal, was reportedly chased by officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for more than two days before finally being caught.
Westergard pleaded guilty to four charges, but a judge withheld adjudication (so he wasn’t found legally guilty).
Westergard is currently being held without bail on the charge of first-degree murder.
[image via Martin County Sheriff’s Office]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]