Search for missing autistic girl in Clearlake resumes
Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 at 8:34 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 7:07 a.m.
CLEARLAKE -- For Ronald and Belan Giles, there was never a question that they would help try to find 9-year-old Mikaela Renee Lynch.
"Other than the hair color, she looks just like my daughter," Belan Giles said as her family headed out to distribute fliers about the missing Clearlake girl. Like Mikaela, the Giles' grown daughter has autism and was prone to wandering off. "I can't fathom what the parents are going through."
Hundreds of volunteers and public safety officers spent Monday scouring Cache Creek and the lakeside neighborhoods in Clearlake, one day after Mikaela disappeared from the yard of her family's Highlands Harbor vacation home.
As of 9:45 p.m., however, searchers had found no sign of the girl and called off the search for the night.
Family members told police the 70-pound, 4-foot child has the mental capacity of a 1-year-old and can't speak, said Clearlake Police Lt. Tim Celli.
"She does like water. The residence does back up to waterways," Celli said. "As far as we know, she does not swim."
"We will keep doing this for as long as necessary," Clearlake Police Chief Craig Clausen said as he stopped for lunch at the search command post, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Bay Street and Lakeview Way, not far from the family home.
Mikaela was last seen on Mother's Day in the fenced backyard where she had been jumping on a trampoline and playing with her younger brother. He apparently ran inside after being chased by a bee and she was alone for an unknown period, Celli said.
The parents, who were inside the house, called for help at about 1:30 p.m.
Police believe Mikaela is naked and shoeless. They were told she often removed her clothes when she became hot. Police found articles of clothing in the yard.
The girl also typically wore a diaper.
"Canines have led to a diaper we believe the child was wearing at some point, located near the waterway at least one house away," Celli said.
The scent trail seemed to end there, he said.
"We're hoping for the best. This was a terrible tragedy to have a child go missing, especially on Mother's Day," Celli said. "We're doing all we can."
The Harbor Lane house backs up to the murky waters of Cache Creek, which flows out of Clear Lake and runs as deep as 11 feet. Officials requested the releases from a Cache Creek dam be stopped Sunday to reduce water flow. If the girl was in the water, that would help keep her from being swept farther downstream, officials said.
Conditions in Cache Creek were difficult, with little visibility and lots of debris along the bottom, said Sheriff's Sgt. Don McPherson, who was coordinating the water search.
Four divers were working nearly blind, searching the bottom by hand at locations identified by dogs trained to detect the scent of human bodies under the water. The dogs had given several alerts, but as of mid-afternoon, divers had found nothing.
Five boats were combing the creek, focusing on the area downstream from the family's home. McPherson said the search is not expected to spread to the waters of Clear Lake itself, since that is well upstream and it seems unlikely Mikaela could have traveled that far.
On land, Clausen said the search covered as much as 10 square miles by midday Monday. The diverse search zone includes city streets and neighborhoods, marshes, grassy areas and wildland.
"Beyond the housing tract it's marsh and pretty rugged," said Charlie Diener, a battalion chief with the Lake County Fire Protection District in Clearlake.
While police weren't ruling out anything, including abduction, it appeared the girl had wandered away, said Clausen.
The Lynch family, which declined to speak to the media as they awaited word on their daughter, told police that Mikaela had wandered away from home before but only went a short distance, Clausen said. The family is from the Bay Area and uses the Clearlake home only for vacations.
Throughout the day, area residents converged on the church offering to help. Because they are not trained to search, and because it is difficult to coordinate with civilians, police had been directing volunteers to distribute fliers and spread the word about Mikaela's disappearance, Celli said. American Red Cross volunteers provided water and snacks.
Anna Ocon of Clearlake Oaks said she was motivated to help because her 9-year-old son also has autism and she can envision herself in the place of Mikaela's parents.
"I feel as if I have lost my own child," she said. "I couldn't sleep last night."
Volunteer Evette Rose stopped by and picked up a large stack of fliers, saying the case touched her because of her own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She had spent the earlier part of the day scanning docks and banks along Cache Creek, despite pain from recent back surgery.
"I love children . . . it just touched my heart," she said, choking back tears.
The neighborhood around the house was papered with fliers including Mikaela's picture, and uniformed searchers visited every house.
"I hope they find her; I have three of my own," said Ermelinda Trejo, whose house near the command post was visited by two searchers in the early afternoon. "It freaks me out. I saw it on the news and it gave me chills."
Neighbor Bob Hansen, who lives just a few hundred yards from the Lynch home, said he had never seen a police presence this large in town, despite having worked on the department's civilian auxiliary for about 14 years. He was out of town when Mikaela disappeared and he said the street was thronged with emergency vehicles when he arrived home on Sunday night.
"I have never seen so many people," he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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