Concern grows as search efforts prove unsuccessful

A Santa Clara County Sheriff Search and Rescue team walks through a field along Santa Teresa Blvd. between Scheller Avenue and Richmond Avenue Saturday.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has investigated more than 350 leads and spent the weekend combing vast areas of South County with the help of nearby law enforcement agencies trying to locate 15-year-old Sierra LaMar. But the Morgan Hill teen remains missing after 11 days. 

The sheriff’s office’s plan for the ongoing investigation is to “re-canvass” areas that have already been searched – including the neighborhoods and fields surrounding the LaMar home in north Morgan Hill – and to re-interview some of Sierra’s classmates and former classmates, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Cardoza. 

More than 40 local sheriff’s deputies have been assigned to the case – not including those assisting from the FBI and surrounding counties, Cardoza said. 

On Sunday, deputies and detectives from Santa Clara and surrounding counties continued “re-canvassing” areas they have already searched, culminating the second weekend of efforts to find the Sobrato High School student who disappeared Friday, March 16, Cardoza said. 

On Saturday, the largest search so far was conducted by more than 60 members of search-and-rescue teams from Santa Clara, Marin, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, Cardoza said. At least four K-9 search dogs were involved in that search. 

Law enforcement were combing remote areas this weekend also, such as wooded locations closer to Gilroy along Hecker Pass and Pacheco Pass, Mount Madonna County Park and west of Casa Loma Road.

The search Saturday in Morgan Hill was concentrated in a 12-mile radius from Palm and Dougherty avenues. The FBI also joined the search last week.

Investigators this week welcomed the efforts of the KlaasKids Foundation to organize volunteers to help search for Sierra, Cardoza said, after last weekend’s heightened efforts to locate the 15-year-old turned up no significant leads. 

The foundation is a national organization devoted to raising awareness about missing children cases. KlaasKids is staging a “search center” for volunteers Tuesday morning at Burnett Elementary School, 85 Tilton Ave. 

Sierra lives a few hundred yards north of her usual bus stop at the intersection from which Saturday’s search radiated. She moved to the rural north Morgan Hill neighborhood from Fremont with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Rick Gardiner, in October 2011. In Fremont, Sierra attended Washington High School and was a cheerleader. 

Authorities have said both adults, as well as Sierra’s father, Steve LaMar, who still lives in Fremont, have been ruled out as suspects and have been cooperative in the investigation, Cardoza said. 

Sierra was last seen March 16 before heading to her school bus that Friday. She never made it to school. LaMar was home at 6 a.m. that morning; she typically leaves for the bus stop between 7:10 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. She tweeted a message on her Twitter account at 6:29 a.m. and sent a text to a friend at 7:11 a.m. that morning, the last interaction anyone has heard from the teen since she went missing.  

On March 17 police found Sierra’s cell phone near Scheller Avenue and Santa Teresa Boulevard. The next day, investigators found her “Juicy Couture” brand pink-and-black purse on Santa Teresa Boulevard near Laguna Avenue with a neatly folded T-shirt with what appears to be a San Jose Sharks ice hockey logo, a pair of pants and undergarments. Police declined to say if they think Sierra was wearing the clothing at the time she disappeared, or if they were a change of clothes for later. 

Sierra is about 5-feet, 2-inches tall with a thin build and dark hair.

Authorities have yet to determine if Sierra was abducted, or if she ran away. Cardoza said investigators so far have found no evidence that she planned to run away before she went missing, and the teen has no prior history of running away. 

Areas outside the 12-mile search radius have been visited and checked almost every day since March 16, even if they are not the target of last weekend’s combing of areas closer to Sierra’s home, Cardoza said. 

Some of those areas have been inspected multiple times “because they could be possible crime scenes,” Cardoza said. 

Authorities in surrounding counties have followed up on more than 150 leads in the past nine days. 

“A number of unconfirmed sightings of Sierra, inside and outside our county” have been reported to police, Cardoza said. Most recently, a 911 caller in the Santa Cruz area reported seeing a hitchhiker who looked like Sierra walking on the side of Holohan Road Sunday. However, deputies investigated the sighting and determined it was unfounded. 

In a case such as Sierra’s, which has gained high visibility in the Bay Area, throughout the state and nationwide, it is common for investigators to hear “a lot of possible sightings” of the missing person, Cardoza added. 

No future focused searches are planned, Cardoza said. 

Downtown Morgan Hill was decorated with scores of red ribbons Monday morning, in support of Sierra’s safe return. Residents also held a prayer vigil for Sierra and her family at Crossroads Christian Church Sunday night. 

Some of Sierra’s family members attended the vigil. Gardiner, who was unable to attend the vigil, said Sierra’s mother and the rest of the family are continually grateful for the support shown for the safe return of the teen.

“We’re getting so much help from everybody it’s hard to keep track. It’s overwhelming. We’ve gotten so much help from Morgan Hill, and from law enforcement. We’re very, very thankful,” Gardiner said. 

Dozens of Sierra’s neighbors tied yellow ribbons into bows on mailboxes, utility poles, fence posts and other structures outside their homes in recognition of the search efforts. 

Don Rowen, 66, a resident of Scheller Avenue said his daughter, Melissa Williams, 41, helped organize the effort to adorn the neighborhood with the ribbons. Some neighborhood children were out tying the bows Saturday morning.

“None of us knew (Sierra), but we’re all just devastated,” Rowen said. “All the troubles you have in life don’t mean anything anymore.” 

Anyone with information on the case can contact Santa Clara County Communications at 299-2311. During normal business hours callers can call sheriff’s Investigators at 808-4500 or the anonymous tip line at 808-4431. Information or tips can also be sent via the Sheriff’s Office website at site/sheriff. Information can also be submitted by text at 421-6760.

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