April Danielle Bryant
Navarro County, Texas


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April Danielle Bryant, 10, of Mildred passed away Aug. 6, 2001.

Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. today at Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home.

Services will be 2 p.m. Thursday at Mildred Baptist Church with the Rev. Tony Neal officiating. Interment will follow at Oakwood Cemetery.

Pallbearers will be Asa Gallup, Duane Gallup, David Bell, Keith Martin, Charles Williams and Olin Williams.

April was born Jan. 14, 1991 in Corsicana.

She is survived by her father, Allan Bryant of Hewitt; mother, Gale Zoch of Mildred; Amanda McElhenney of Mildred; brother, Justin Zoch of Mildred; grandparents, Dr. Allen and Sharon Gallup of Corsicana and Brenda "B J" Hamlin of Waco; great-grandparents, Lois and Tutor Bell of Eureka; aunts and uncles, Asa and Deanne Gallup of Corsicana, Duane and Barbara Gallup of Corsicana, Brian Brooks, Lillian and Jason Bell, Ted Marr, Tina Brooks, Sharon Minatrea of Wortham, Marsha and Dennis Dickerson of Mildred, Cathy and Mike Reeves of Wortham, and Brandon and Pam Minatra of Arlington.

Memorials may be made to the April Bryant Fund, in care of the Powell State Bank, P.O. Box 205, Powell, Texas 75153.

Arrangements by Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home of Corsicana.


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8/7 MISSING GIRL FOUND DEAD: Suspect leads NCSO, FBI officials to body


By JUSTIN LEWIS/COPYRIGHT CORSICANA DAILY SUN

The search for a missing 10-year-old Mildred girl in southeast Navarro County came to a tragic end Monday night.

The body of 10-year-old April Danielle Bryant was found in a creek off of county road SW0030 in the area known as "Love Creek Road."

"We have recovered the body of April Danielle Bryant," Navarro County Sheriff Les Cotten said at a press conference late Monday night. "At this time we do have a suspect in this case."

Cotten refused to officially name a suspect until that suspect was formally charged. The arraignment was scheduled for this morning.

Navarro County Sheriff's Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials were led to the fairly remote area where the body was located by a suspect that is now in custody.

When asked how they found the body, Cotten replied "Information from the suspect."

Despite the fact that Cotten refused to officially name a suspect, the girl's stepfather, Michael Zoch was seen being led out of the Navarro County Justice Center by FBI agents and NCSO officials shortly before the body was discovered.

The stepfather of the 10-year-old Mildred girl missing since Sunday morning was arrested Monday afternoon by Navarro County Sheriff's deputies for violating a court order.

"We did take Michael Zoch into custody this afternoon for violation of a court order by going back onto Gale Zoch's property," Cotten said.

A protective order had been in place, banning Michael Zoch from the property on county road SE3020 in Mildred.

Navarro County Sheriff's Department officials are now considering this case as a capital case.

"We are now looking at capital murder charges in this case," Cotten said.

Zoch's arrest Monday afternoon followed two missed appointments with NCSO officials, one Sunday evening at his residence in Silver City and another Monday morning at the Navarro County Justice Center.

Sunday night, as the search for the missing child was winding down, Zoch was asked if he would meet a deputy at his residence in Silver City and agreed. Zoch, however, never showed up at that residence.

His Monday morning meeting with NCSO officials was also missed.

"We asked him to take a polygraph and he agreed," Cotten said. "We asked him to contact us this morning (Monday) and he did not call or show up."

A warrant for his arrest was then issued for violation of the court order.

NCSO Deputy Hank Bailey took Zoch into custody from a job site at Navarro College Monday afternoon without incident.

"We found him at his work and he was then taken into custody," Cotten said. "He has once again been asked to submit to a polygraph test."

Law enforcement officials were not originally calling the disappearance an abduction, but those views changed with the discovery of one item Sunday night, Bryant's eyeglasses.

According to the girl's mother, Gail Zoch, Bryant could not see very well without her glasses.

Bryant, who would have been an incoming fifth grader in the Mildred school district, was reported missing around 4 a.m. Sunday morning when her mother discovered her gone.

"The mother came in from work and noticed that the child was missing," Sergeant Jimmy Johnson, NCSO detective, said in an interview Sunday afternoon. "She called around to friends and when nobody had seen her, she called us around 3:45.

"We had deputies on the scene in under 10 minutes and we have had an ongoing search ever since."

The mother had been at work at The Mustang Club in Mustang Saturday evening into early Sunday morning, leaving the girl at home. Relatives who live next door to the residence on county road SE3020 were just 50 yards away when the abduction took place.

Monday saw more searching in the fields and wooded areas surrounding the family's residence. Corsicana Emergency Corps personnel, along with volunteers from all over the county combed the area on horseback, all-terrain vehicles and foot in search of the girl.

NCSO personnel stepped up patrol Monday, canvassing the area and contacting numerous people.

"We called the evening shift in at noon," Cotten said. "We have been going around checking all the known child sex offenders in Corsicana and Navarro County to see if any of them might know something."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had also been asked to assist NCSO officials in the investigation.

"We are here at the invitation of the sheriff and to assist in their investigation," Lori Bailey, FBI special agent, said. "We'll stay and help as long as we are needed."

Numerous alleged sightings of the girl had been called in to the Navarro County Sheriff's Department dispatch center as well as the Corsicana Police Department dispatch.

The mother and daughter, along with two other children, a 14-year old daughter and 2-year-old son, have lived in the Mildred area for several years.

Zoch didn't believe that her daughter just left unannounced.

"She knows the area and people," her mother said. "But she has never been one to wander off."

One tip from a caller led to calls to the Greenville Police Department to check out a possible lead Sunday afternoon. This lead ultimately did not turn up anything.

Two finds that had hearts racing at the scene Sunday were two separate occurrences of footprints, one leading to a bridge over a dry creek bed not far from the house and one in the creek further on down.

Both were originally thought to be those of the missing girl, but were not found to be so.

The family was not available as of press time, but Cotten said that the family was visited by an un-named NCSO detective.

"I haven't spoken to the family, but one of the detectives went out to speak to them," Cotten said. "I think they are taking it pretty hard."

Justin Lewis may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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8/10 MILDRED MOURNS APRIL: Family, area says goodbye


By JUSTIN LEWIS/Daily Sun Staff

CORSICANA -- April Bryant, the 10-year-old Mildred girl reported missing and later found murdered, was laid to rest Thursday afternoon at Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana.

About 60 people gathered at the graveside service in the 100-degree heat following the hour-long funeral service at Mildred Baptist Church.

The church, a fairly small country church located on U.S. Highway 287 in Mildred, was packed with family members, friends and members of the community which led an intense two-day search for the missing girl earlier this week. The chapel was standing-room only with hundreds more people outside.

The entire area was saddened when the search for April ended late Monday night after Michael Paul Zoch, April's ex-stepfather, confessed to kidnapping and murdering the girl. Zoch then led Navarro County Sheriff's Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials to the girl's body.

She had been missing since early Sunday morning.

A shiny blue casket and numerous flower arrangements and photos sat at the front of the church. Students of Mildred in attendance passed a basketball around, signing it for April.

The Rev. Tony Neal, April's pastor, made references throughout the service of her unending energy and love for everybody around her.

"She always had hugs for everyone," Neal said. "During bible school three weeks ago ... whenever I would ask a question, her hand would always shoot up in the air.

"I asked the group if anything significant had happened to them during the week, and her hand raised slowly and she replied, "I asked Jesus into my life,'" Neal said. "I am just so glad that we taught the gospel so that she could understand it."

Sniffling and crying could be heard throughout the church during the service.

April's parents, Allan Bryant and Gale Zoch, were visibly upset.

"This is the hardest day of them all," her father said before the service. "I have to say good-bye. I am just not ready to do it."

Ms. Zoch, clutching a white teddy bear throughout the service and at graveside, did not speak during the service.

Flags at the Mildred ISD complex across the highway from the church flew at half mast Thursday in honor of April.

At graveside, Neal read a poem about April that Rachel Walker had written and given to him. It read:

In this world full of shame, people gently mention your name.

As you peer down at our faces, you are now in the Good Lord's graces. Young at heart, young at play, too early came your day.

If sin had not taken you away, your mother would still be holding you today.

Questions still unanswered, only wonders in our minds.

Deep down in our hearts, we will find you playing with the angels now.

And to us, you look down happily and free, and as our tears still slowly drip, we see you are where you earned to be.

We hope your family lives with love and hope , while you are gone it is hard to cope; to lose a child is like losing your own life.

It will be awhile before they can completely rest, but as long as they understand that you are in God's hands, they can learn to trust again.

May God bless your family and friends.

"Being at graveside is the time when we say good-bye," Neal said. "Yet, saying good-bye is the hardest thing to do."

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9/8/2002 Mother: Don't forget daughter April

By LOYD COOK/Daily Sun Staff

The mother of a 10-year-old girl slain last year is tired of the attention focused on the girl's accused killer, especially following his Aug. 28 suicide.

April Danielle Bryant was found dead in a ravine south of Corsicana in August 2001. Her former stepfather, Michael Paul Zoch, led sheriff's deputies and FBI agents to the site after confessing to abduction, sexual assault and strangulation of April, authorities said.

Michael Zoch hanged himself in his jail cell just more than an hour before his capital murder trial was to have began.

Gale Zoch, Michael's ex-wife and April Bryant's mother, said media coverage in the past several months has seemed to focus more on Michael and left the memory of April behind.

"It's been all about Michael now," Gale said, adding that references to her daughter as "the body" have been difficult to handle. "I don't want people to forget that it was April."

Michael Zoch's suicide negated his trial and left onlookers without an official verdict. His family has continued to contend that April Bryant's autopsy showed no sign of sexual assault and that prosecutors could not have proved it so.

Gale said she can't understand why the Zoch family is still making that contention.

"I'm not understanding why his family is not accepting it," she said. "The authorities did determine that there was sexual assault; (Michael) did confess."

Gale was working at an Angus country western club the night April was abducted from their home where April was alone. Her mother said that April's biological father, Allen Bryant, was supposed to pick April up that night, but was running late.

"That's not to blame her father, this was Michael's fault," Gale said. "It's just that people have been so mean, talking about me leaving April at home alone ... they just didn't know all of it.

"I mean, I'm a single mother. There wasn't any (pay)check fairy visiting my house. I just had a summer job on weekends."

She said items have been stolen from April's grave site, including statues and a plaque in her memory. Coupled with some of the negative response she's received, Gale said she had to move away from the Mildred area.

"Don't get me wrong, a lot of people have been nice," Gale said.

April's father Allen said, when he heard of Michael Zoch's suicide, that he was glad that everything was over. Gale said she has mixed feelings.

"(Michael) took the coward's way out, but we didn't have to relive (the death of April)," she said. "I mean, if he was innocent he wouldn't have committed suicide; he would have fought (the murder charge) all the way.

"I never would wish anyone dead, but at least he can't hurt us any more."

Loyd Cook may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]


Family seeks closure in Corsicana murder trial

By MICHELLE HILLEN Tribune-Herald staff writer

For a year, Allen Bryant has struggled to move past the grief of his daughter's death, only to find the wounds open up again after stumbling across a stray stuffed animal or book that belonged to her.

But as the capital murder trial begins in Corsicana today for Michael Paul Zoch, accused of raping and murdering 10-year-old April Bryant last August, Bryant hopes to experience some closure once justice is served.

"Time has a way of healing some, but I don't think this is something you can ever totally heal from. There is just something missing from your life that can never be replaced," said Bryant, speaking from his home in Hewitt. "This has been a bad couple of weeks with the anniversary of her death and now this trial. But hopefully it will help us get some closure."

Jury selection begins this morning in Judge John Jackson's 13th District Courtroom. Navarro County District Attorney Pat Batchelor and his assistant, Christy Brown Dunn, will handle the prosecution. Kerry Anderson Donica and Damara Watkins of Corsicana will handle Zoch's defense. None of the attorneys would comment, citing a judge-issued gag order.

This morning's trial begins 14 days after the one-year anniversary of the day Navarro County Sheriff's Department officials say Zoch, April's stepfather, led them to her body in a tributary of Richland Creek.

Discovery of her body ended three days of searching for April, who was reported missing by her mother, Gale Zoch, at 4 a.m. on Aug. 5.

April had been staying alone at her home in rural Navarro County while her mother worked a second job into the early-morning hours at the Mustang Club, about seven minutes away in nearby Angus.

Authorities believe the abduction took place sometime around midnight on Aug. 4. That's when Michael Zoch drove April in his truck to the isolated county road, officials said.

After allegedly molesting and strangling the girl, Michael Zoch threw her body off a nearby bridge, Navarro County Sheriff Leslie Cotten said following Zoch's arrest.

Prior to his arrest, Michael Zoch showed up to Gale Zoch's house, saying he wanted to help with the search, Bryant said.

"He was there the first day, during the whole search," he said. "I went over and talked to him and kind of put him on the spot. He was acting all concerned about her, but I think he was concerned about getting caught."

Zoch was initially arrested Aug. 6 for violation of a restraining order, granted in April 2000 after Gale Zoch stated he ran into her with a car while she was six months pregnant and threw a glass that hit April.

Authorities became suspicious of Michael Zoch after he failed a polygraph test that afternoon. After hours of questioning, he confessed to the killing and led authorities to her body.

If convicted, Zoch, 37, faces the death penalty or life in prison a sentence for which he would have to serve at least 40 years before becoming eligible for parole.

"I think he deserves the death penalty and I think he's going to get it," said B.J. Hamlin, April's grandmother, and Bryant's mother, who also lives in Hewitt. "I just want justice to be done."

For Hamlin, this summer has been particularly painful as she has relived scenes from last year's summer, which April spent in Hewitt.

"She was here all summer, and we'd take her out to the lake or go Rollerblading and biking," she said. "We had our little special time at night, we'd have our little pillow fights . . . it's just really hard. I miss her so much. She was a fun kid who loved life."

April would have been entering the sixth grade in Mildred ISD this year. Instead, the small school district of nearly 630 will start today without her the same day as the beginning of the trial, said Becky Burns, assistant superintendent at Mildred.

Last year, the first day of school ended with April's funeral.

"We are a really small school and she was a real popular little girl," Burns said. "It hurts us horrifically, and she is still deeply missed. By all means, in such a small school, you never recover from something like that, but all you can do is love what kids you've got while you've got them."

Though Mildred is a small community, Burns says April's murder didn't prompt widespread paranoia in the community because it was viewed as a family issue, not one involving a stranger coming to town stalking random children.

But Bryant, who went through school in Mildred three years ahead of Michael Zoch, said the whole incident seemed unreal because he wouldn't have expected anything like that in such a small town and he wouldn't have expected it from Zoch.

"Michael was real quiet in school. I guess you don't ever look for signs like this, but he wasn't the type of person to just be a bully or violent in school," he said. "I never really considered him a threat to her. But I guess you don't ever really plan on something like that happening, especially in that small of a town."

Gale Zoch could not be reached for comment.

 

 


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