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Search suspended for missing 6-month-old girl in Northern California

Law enforcement officials are suspending their search for missing 6-month-old Ember Skye Graham after six days, saying inconsistencies in her father’s story about her disappearance has made it nearly impossible to find her.

Shasta County sheriff’s officials have named Ember’s father, Matthew Graham, 24, as a person of interest. Graham, who has been arrested on a probation violation, was the last person to see Ember as she slept in her playpen Wednesday night in his Happy Valley home.

Detectives say Graham’s story about his daughter’s disappearance is riddled with holes. He told sheriff’s detectives that Ember was abducted by a stranger, but investigators haven't found any “credible evidence” to support his claim.

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“Matthew showed very little remorse for the disappearance of his daughter,” Sgt. Pat Kropholler said in a statement. “At no time during the eight-plus hours that he was with detectives did he ever inquire what was being done to find her.”

More than 90 law enforcement officers have gone door-to-door and have scoured rugged terrain, brush, trails and parking lots in the search of Ember. About 60 family members and friends looked for the child throughout the unincorporated community just south of Redding.

But there was no sign of the girl.

The search began Thursday after Graham called authorities to report his daughter missing. He said he woke up after 5 a.m. to find her gone from her playpen in his Noosha Lane home.

Sheriff’s officials said he told detectives he passed out after smoking marijuana all night.

Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Kent said that from the start, Graham has given inconsistent accounts about where he was Wednesday night. Graham and his wife are separated, and that night was one of his scheduled visitation days, he said.

During the investigation, detectives obtained surveillance video footage from a convenience store near the search area showing a different version of events from what Graham told detectives.

The video shows Graham pulling up in his truck with Ember not fastened in a child seat, sheriff’s officials said. He took her into the convenience store, then pumped gas and drove away in the opposite direction from his home.

He told detectives he was taking a drive to get Ember to fall asleep, but made a U-turn to return home.

The child has a seizure disorder and at one point was hospitalized because of her condition, her grandmother Deborah Tomlin said. She takes medication twice a day to treat her seizures.

According to sheriff’s officials, the medication makes Ember restless and she could never really fall asleep.

The whole trip would have taken about 8 minutes, sheriff’s officials said. But surveillance video showed Graham drove back home more than an hour later.

Sheriff’s officials said he could not remember what he did or where he went during that hour.

Detectives investigating the possibility that Ember was abducted discovered that it would have been difficult for a stranger to take her due to the condition of Graham’s home.

Ember’s playpen was kept in 25-foot camp trailer on his gated property protected by guard dogs. The trailer door was broken and needed to be opened with screwdriver, sheriff’s officials said.

Graham told detectives Ember cried after being picked up by a stranger, sheriff’s officials said.

Detectives have not charged Graham with Ember’s disappearance, but arrested him on suspicion of a probation violation in connection with failing to disclose medication he took.

“Detectives with the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, Major Crimes Unit continue to follow up on leads and are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ember’s disappearance as to Matthew Graham’s involvement as well as any information of a third-party abduction,” Kropholler said.

Sheriff’s officials said they would launch another search effort if they received any new tips about Ember’s disappearance.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

5:40 p.m.: This story has been updated with sheriff's officials suspending search efforts and details about Matthew Graham.

This story was originally published at 10:13 a.m.

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