MORGAN HILL, Calif. — Fliers bearing an image of the wide-eyed, smiling teen are taped to every box that leaves Dutchman’s Pizza, a high school hangout. Pink and yellow ribbons adorn every tree on the median strip of this quaint downtown. A local elementary school serves as a command center, where more than 600 volunteers gathered beneath clearing skies Friday to continue the search for Sierra LaMar.
The 15-year-old Northern California cheerleader, law enforcement officials believe, was abducted outside her home the morning of March 16. Santa Clara County officers and FBI agents have interviewed dozens of Sierra’s friends and family members.
The day after she disappeared, deputies found Sierra’s cellphone lying near a road less than a mile from her home. The next day, her black and pink Juicy Couture purse turned up — with her underwear and San Jose Sharks jersey folded neatly inside.
So far officials have scoured the area within a 12-mile radius of Sierra’s home in this wide valley, dotted with farms, tract homes, reservoirs and percolation ponds. Meanwhile, they have stationed a liaison at the elementary school to collect leads from what Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Cardoza called “an outstanding community effort.”
Organized by the KlaasKids Foundation for Children, the effort to find Sierra has involved more than 2,000 volunteers since Tuesday alone, eclipsing any previous search campaign, said Marc Klaas, who founded the group after his daughter Polly was kidnapped and murdered in 1993.
“It kind of takes a village,” said Sandy Knight of Campbell, near San Jose, who joined her husband, Gary, on his second straight day of searching.
Also there Friday was Michael Le. His sister, Hayward nursing student Michelle Le, was missing for months before her body was found last year. She had been slain.
Then there was 20-year-old Midsi Sanchez of Vallejo, north of Oakland, who escaped from her kidnapper at age 8 after a two-day ordeal. And Pat Boyd, a retired police officer from Gilroy whose 28-year-old daughter was killed after disappearing from a Sacramento casino.
“If the grass is high, get close — close enough to see a necklace,” the gray-haired Boyd instructed volunteers. Sierra is petite, he reminded the searchers, while urging them to look out for clothing or the colored rubber bracelets teens like to wear.
“I want you to search,” Boyd said, “like she was your own family member.”
The 5-foot, 2-inch Sierra was last seen by her mother, who had gone off to work about 6 a.m. Marlene LaMar didn’t learn that her daughter was missing until 12 hours later, when she got an automated message from Sobrato High School that said Sierra had been absent.
Officials said the teenager never made it to the bus stop.
“She’s either the victim of an abduction or she voluntarily left the house and … is being held against her will,” Cardoza said.
Boyd and a group of volunteers headed out early Friday to search a weedy vacant lot surrounded by dilapidated wood fencing. Among the group was Pamela Guerra, who grew up in Morgan Hill and now lives in Gilroy, not far south. She too has a 15-year-old daughter.
“She’s out there,” Guerra said of Sierra. “We don’t know if she’s alive, but …her parents need some closure.”
Guerra took a stick and poked the tangled grass as the group fanned out at arm’s length to span the field. She and a friend, who both work for the Santa Clara County Department of Child Support Services, took the day off to help. So did Patty Keith, a Morgan Hill office manager who couldn’t stop thinking about her own children, ages 5 and 8.
“If anything were to happen to them, God forbid, I would expect the world to stop,” she said. “This just hits too close to home. “
In the field, they found a blue latex glove. An old rope. Spare bits of duct tape. A long shoelace. The day wore on
Keith carefully tagged and noted each discovery.
Back at the school, Michael Le led a debriefing. The UC Berkeley senior said he had dedicated his spring break to the search for Sierra.
“I know it’s really long and tiring out there, but I appreciate you going through it,” Le told the volunteers. “Every single one of you who comes out improves our chances of finding Sierra. And more than that, it provides so much comfort to the family.”
Sierra’s father, 47-year-old Steve LaMar of Fremont, took it all in with bewildered appreciation. Sierra had lived with him in the city south of Oakland until moving to Morgan Hill to be with her mother in October. She called him the night before she disappeared, asking him to make an appointment to get her hair dyed.
“The support we’re getting from the entire Bay Area, it’s been incredible,” LaMar said."It helps us cope…. We love her. We’re going to find her, and she’s going to come home. “