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Search Continues for Missing Morgan Hill Girl

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Lillian Mongeau/KQED

Melissa Williams, the leader of a search party on Saturday, checks for possible evidence that Sierra passed though this ravine.

It's Saturday morning. The cafeteria at Burnett Elementary School in Morgan Hill is covered in pink and purple. Pink ribbons. Purple balloons. Pink signs with purple writing: "Come home. Sierra!" That message, scrawled in bubbly, teenage handwriting, is the main indication that there won't be a birthday party here. But there is about to be a search party; 60 search parties actually.

Some of the searchers know the missing girl, but most don't. Gloria Maturino is one of those who has never met Sierra LaMar or her family—but she says the case hits close to home. "I have two daughters," Maturino says. "If one of my daughters was missing, I'd want the whole world out there searching for them.

Just about everyone repeats a variation on that theme: If someone you loved were missing, wouldn't you want the whole world to turn out to help you look?

Maturino is in a small group assigned to search an area less than a mile from the place Sierra was last seen on March 16. The goal, they're told, is to establish that Sierra isn't here--to clear the area so it doesn't have to be searched again.

At a briefing, search party leader Melissa Williams told volunteers a little about Sierra. "She liked to wear multiple necklaces and little, silly band bracelets," Williams says. "That kind of stuff--stuff a fifteen-year-old would wear or like to have."

And with that, the searchers are off. The group spreads out in a line to search under a highway overpass. A creek runs through a shallow ravine. The banks are lined with dead leaves and scraggly thorn bushes. This isn't the kind of search Maturino, the mother from San Jose, wants to be doing.
"What if you do find her?" she asks. "I'd rather have her found alive. But the way we're searching right now it's like we're searching for someone who already died. And it makes you feel kind of eerie."

The searchers use long sticks to part the grass and bramble that cover the ground here. They find an empty package for a lock, a latex glove, an old high school ID, animal bones. It's hard to know what exactly should be tagged for later investigation. When you're looking for suspicious items, everything seems suspicious.

Someone finds a torn white sandal. It looks like it's been there for a very long time. Do you tag it?

"I try to err on the side of caution," search leader Williams says. "Like this shoe is a perfect example. It's probably older than 3 weeks, but it's just the right size. It looks like a 15-year-old-girl would like to have it. And uh, so I'm going to go ahead and mark it anyway."

An hour later, the group has found and tagged several more items, but nothing with an obvious connection to Sierra. It's getting hot. Maturino's pants are covered in thorns and she's worried about all the poison oak.

Still, she says she's glad she came out, and she hopes other people do too: "It's a life. It's someone we can't find. We should all be out here."

Another search is scheduled for today, and yet another is scheduled for the coming weekend. And many of the searchers say they'll keep coming back until the girl they're looking for is found.

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