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Body of missing girl, 9, found in Cache Creek

Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 8:18 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 7:40 a.m.

CLEARLAKE -- Searchers on Wednesday found the body of 9-year-old Mikaela Lynch in the murky waters of Cache Creek, not far from where she disappeared last weekend.

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Mikaela Lynch

COURTESY OF CLEARLAKE POLICE DEPARTMENT

The severely autistic San Francisco girl had been missing since Sunday afternoon when she slipped out of the backyard of a home along the Lake County waterway.

"It's difficult to be standing here saying this," said Clearlake Police Chief Craig Clausen, who was joined at a news conference by Clearlake police officers and search team leaders.

A dive team found the girl's body in the creek, close to the home where her family had been vacationing over the Mother's Day weekend.

Clausen offered few details about precisely where the body was found. He said he did not know whether divers had searched the area previously, but water rescue personnel said earlier in the week the water was so muddy and full of debris that divers had to blindly feel their way along the bottom.

Clausen said there was no immediate indication of foul play or of how long she had been in the water.

"We'll continue out the investigation to the final closure," he said.

Clausen also said the family had requested privacy and did not plan to make any public statements.

After the announcement, volunteers and rescuers burst into tears and hugged in the parking lot outside the search headquarters. Civilian volunteers who had been streaming to the center to offer their help were being turned away at the door with the bad news.

"We just wanted to find that baby and bring some peace to the family," said Fred Cox of Clearlake, wiping away tears after he was turned away. "It's going to hurt. It's going to hurt real bad. This community has a lot of heart and it's going to be a big hit."

Cathy Bachman of Clearlake was arriving with her children and grandchildren to volunteer as the word spread. She said she was deeply conflicted by the news that the long search was over.

"It's just devastating," she said. "She was missing so long. Now you know she's put to rest, but now there is no hope."

Within minutes of the announcement, search teams began packing up equipment and heading out of the parking lot, returning to counties across Northern California.

The huge effort began Sunday afternoon with a 1:30 p.m. call to 911 from Mikaela's father reporting she was gone. The girl had been playing on a trampoline with her younger brother in the backyard. The fenced yard slopes down to the banks of Cache Creek.

When her brother ran inside after being chased by a bee, she was briefly on her own. A surveillance video from a nearby home showed the naked girl running up the street and minutes later, her family out looking for her.

Her clothing was in the yard -- Mikaela was known to take off her clothes when she was hot -- and her diaper was found at a separate location, not far from the water.

Mikaela enjoyed water, though she could not swim and police officials feared she'd gone into the creek.

The search for the girl who couldn't speak and functioned at the level of a toddler captured the small tourist town and a much wider audience beyond Clearlake.

The search eventually involved hundreds of people, including law enforcement, trained search volunteers and concerned local and out-of-county residents who wanted to help.

It also included a variety of search dogs, aircraft, divers and two small submarines equipped with sonar.

Over the course of the search, the Clearlake Police Department received nearly 3,000 phone calls from reporters wanting interviews, citizens wanting to help and tipsters saying they'd seen her as far away as Florida and Alabama, police said.

The search area encompassed the creek-lined neighborhood, city streets, marshy grassland and the creek and its inlets.

The mood at the search headquarters Wednesday morning had grown more somber even before the discovery.

Police and searchers had closed public access to the Mormon church that had been serving as a staging center since late Sunday. Trained rescue volunteers had stopped speaking to the media and search organizers had instituted a check-in system for the throngs of civilian volunteers streaming in to help.

It was a marked contrast to the informal atmosphere that prevailed when the search was in its early stages and hopes seemed to be running high.

Neighbors and volunteers seemed to sense the rising tension and urgency around the headquarters.

"We've had missing persons up here before, but this is the first time they've gone this far," said Mike Camara, a neighbor out walking his dog a few blocks from the Lynch vacation home.

"Everybody's talking about it; everybody's looking," he said, spreading his hands to indicate the entire area.

"Every time we walk the dogs, we look," Camara added. "All you can do to help is to look, to keep your eyes open."

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