Sierra searchers: We need more info - Morgan Hill Times: Crime Fire Courts

Sierra searchers: We need more info

Sheriff’s office says nothing new to release while volunteers continue five months after teen went missing

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Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2012 5:15 pm

Five months after Sierra LaMar disappeared from her north Morgan Hill neighborhood, experts leading the volunteer efforts to find the teen say they have a critical need for more information from sheriff’s investigators in order to “fine tune” their ongoing search.

Volunteers from Morgan Hill and surrounding communities, working with Sierra’s family and the KlaasKids Foundation, have done just about everything they can with the information they have, and they hope to enlist more communication this week from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office to turn the search into a “wonderful collaborative effort,” according to KlaasKids search director Brad Dennis.

“We’re at a physical and emotional level here,” said Dennis, who flew back to the Bay Area from his home in Florida this week to re-evaluate the search efforts. “There’s still a daughter that’s missing, and a family that needs closure, and we’re not getting any closer to that.”

At the Sierra Search Center at Burnett Elementary School Wednesday morning, Dennis praised the sheriff’s investigators’ work in identifying and arresting a suspect in Sierra’s murder and kidnapping, but the need to find Sierra or her remains is a crucially separate aspect to the case.

Since the arrest Antolin Garcia Torres, 21 of Morgan Hill, the lines of communication between the nonprofit foundation and law enforcement have “fallen off.”

“We can bring in a lot more resources if we’re given more information” from law enforcement, Dennis said, adding, “Our goal would be to reach out and make contact with investigators today and see what they’re willing to share with us.”

KlaasKids founder Marc Klaas said one example of how more information might help them is they could bring in their own water-searching teams to scour creeks and streams in the South County area.

For their part, sheriff’s investigators haven’t received any new leads or information on the case lately, according to Sgt. Jose Cardoza. He added that the sheriff’s office has worked with the searchers since they started their efforts, but investigators have not provided them any information that has not been released to the general public.

“We’ve never stopped working with the search teams,” Cardoza said. “I’m sure the investigators will continue to work with them.”

Cardoza added that because of the lack of recent leads, the sheriff’s office does not have any planned search efforts coming up, but they will follow up on leads if and when they receive any. The sheriff’s office scoured the earth and water during the first three months of the investigation, even using sonar equipment and sending in divers to reservoirs and other waterways throughout South County.

Sheriff Laurie Smith did not return a phone call before press time Thursday.

KlaasKids’ search director was directly involved in the search for Sierra in the initial weeks. His return to Morgan Hill represents somewhat of a turning point in the search.

“Brad Dennis will be putting a new set of eyes on the search, a fresh perspective based on knowledge and experience,” Klaas said Wednesday morning.

The volunteer searches have continually been “re-evaluated” in the nearly five months they have been searching for Sierra, who was reported missing March 16. KlaasKids searchers and volunteers have been looking for the Sobrato High School sophomore in a tightly organized effort since late March.

The need to fine-tune such efforts are common in searches for missing children, which is KlaasKids’ specialty.

“There’s always a constant need to come in and re-evaluate your priorities,” Dennis said.

That includes previous resets of the parameters of the search, which has expanded geographically in the last four months to a 20-mile radius.

Klaas, whose own daughter Polly was kidnapped and murdered at the age of 12 in 1993, called that radius “incredible.”

Sierra disappeared the morning of March 16, as she was walking to her school bus stop near the intersection of Palm and Dougherty avenues - about a half-mile from her home, according to authorities.

Arrested in May was Garcia Torres, who was charged with killing and kidnapping the 15-year-old cheerleader. Garcia Torres appeared in court days after his arrest for an arraignment, but waived his right to appear at his last hearing Aug. 10. He has not yet entered a plea.

Investigators have not found Sierra’s remains, but they think she is dead based on her lack of contact with anyone since March 16 and her lack of independent means of financial support. DNA evidence found in Garcia Torres’ car, and on some of Sierra’s possessions found shortly after her disappearance places the two together, even though they didn’t know each other beforehand, according to authorities.

The lengthy and ongoing search for Sierra is unique among previous searches for missing children conducted by KlaasKids. Generally such efforts are rarely “this active” five months after the child went missing.

Klaas credits the “loyalty and perseverance” of the unwavering volunteers who continue to return to the twice-weekly search schedule. “They’ve been through a lot,” including even some injuries suffered in the field, Klaas said.

The Sierra Search Center has sent out a total of 915 volunteer search teams since March, according to Dennis. Those teams represent nearly 9,000 individual searchers, counting each regular volunteer’s return.

Volunteer efforts continue every Wednesday and Saturday.

At the search center Wednesday morning, about 30 volunteers arrived before 8:30 a.m. On Saturday, about 80 volunteers showed up, according to Cecilia Ponzini, 60 of Morgan Hill, a volunteer who has helped with administrative work at the search center since March.

Saturday’s tally is a slight jump from the average attendance in recent weeks, which has seen between 40 and 50 searchers show up for each effort, said Ponzini, who has four children and five grandchildren.

“We need to keep hope alive,” said Ponzini. “I’d feel bad if I didn’t come. We just need to bring Sierra LaMar home.”

One volunteer who just recently started helping with the search for Sierra is Roland Barreras, 42 of Morgan Hill. Barreras’ son Jesse Saldivar, also a Morgan Hill resident, was murdered in Hollister just over a year ago at the age of 18.

Barreras was one of the first volunteers to arrive at the search center Wednesday, in his second week of searching for Sierra.

“It’s like a healing thing,” he said. “I was encouraged by the way the community helped me, and helped Tara Romero,” the 14-year-old Sobrato High School freshman who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Morgan Hill last November. “I’m inspired by the constant searchers that keep coming out. In unlikely circumstances, this community has come together, and I want to be a part of that and I know that’s what my son would want me to do.”

Sierra’s family have posted a $35,000 reward for information leading to the missing teen’s whereabouts.

U.S. Congressman Jerry McNerney of Stockton, who represents the 11th congressional district which includes Morgan Hill, will be at the Sierra Search Center for Saturday’s efforts, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.

Volunteers continue to raise money for the search efforts.

On Sept. 15, volunteers will operate an information booth about the search for Sierra at the “Hot Cars and Guitars” concert and car show at Bolado Park in Hollister, according to volunteer Barbara Hammarstrom of San Jose.

That event will feature Shane Dwight and Tommy Castro performing musical acts, as well as food and beverage vendors and camping.

The purpose of the Sierra search volunteers’ booth is to raise awareness and seek donations, Hammarstrom said.

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  • Gettin goog posted at 11:24 am on Mon, Aug 20, 2012.

    Gettin goog Posts: 50

    If Antolin gets the death penalty against, prerry sure he'll start talking.. just saying.

  • Marcie posted at 12:05 pm on Fri, Aug 17, 2012.

    Marcie Posts: 10

    I just feel it is all smoke and mirrors.Look there was alot of red flags on Sierra twitter account.And I am sure that someone was watching her account.I tell my own kids watch what you post.Not everybody is friends on your faceboo accounts and twitter accounts. I am sure alot of the stuff caused deep humiliation to her mother and to the boyfriend in whatever professional business he has.I am the same whatever my kids do basically I have to accept it. I have to,because i love my children.Even when they get into crazy situations.I mean people who don't mind their own businees can print out this stuff and use it against the family.You can lose your jobs over all this kind of stuff.Like I said before,look closer to the Fremont area.I want Sierra to be alive. She is such a pretty girl.

  • wifee posted at 8:37 am on Fri, Aug 17, 2012.

    wifee Posts: 10

    I don't understand where several of the comments here come from? Why the referral to Sierra's Mom living with her boyfriend? Why the referral to Mr. Klass protecting a sex offender? I think someone hasn't been keeping up with this case....or I am missing something.

    I am glad that the 'Team' is looking for more information from the officers. Something has got to give and I hope soon.

  • Maelinda posted at 8:53 am on Thu, Aug 16, 2012.

    Maelinda Posts: 2

    They did say her dna was in his car and his on her cloths....And why hasn't he make a plea ?and why did the attorney he had quit ?

  • Maelinda posted at 8:48 am on Thu, Aug 16, 2012.

    Maelinda Posts: 2

    In our prayers.We pray they will find her..And soon.Im disabled or I would be out there.When I worked out in the field.I would take short cuts via west Bailey road.The road that go's to the caldron fishing lake.It is so scarey and secluded .(up from the I.B.M.)It gos from Monterry road to Bailey all the way across to the lake .From that really curvy road there is a deep drop.Has anyone every checked there? I keep wondering .It would be so easy for him from that road.And it really is in the area.where here belongings were found..They did say he went fishing.Maybe that is what his family thought.....Poor Sierra...Poor here sister and mom.It is too sad..

  • fredoliveri posted at 8:16 am on Thu, Aug 16, 2012.

    fredoliveri Posts: 285

    Marcie, they have her DNA in his car, his on her purse and enough evidence from the beginning to arrest the perp. I would bet they have other evidence that is not being released to the public. I would think they have the right guy. Why does Sierra's mother living with her boyfriend have anything to do with this?

  • Marcie posted at 2:38 am on Thu, Aug 16, 2012.

    Marcie Posts: 10

    I personally believe that you are looking in the wrong area. I just can't believe that Mr. Klass is protecting a registered sex offender.I am totally disheartened by that.I still feel that you should focus on the Fremont area. Close to where Sierra's mother lived before she moved to Morgan Hill.Is Sierra's mother still living with the boyfriend???