Nearly 700 people from the South Bay and South Santa Clara Valley areas, and even a few from outside the state, trekked to Morgan Hill to volunteer their time in the search for missing teen Sierra LaMar, as police announced Tuesday their investigation has ruled out the possibility that she ran away on her own.
Furthermore, investigators are convinced that the person responsible for Sierra’s disappearance, which was first reported by her family March 16, is familiar and comfortable with the Morgan Hill community, even if they don’t live there, according to Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Cardoza.
“We feel the keys to the resolution in this case are in our community,” Cardoza said, adding that the community should keep an eye out for any suspicious behavior on the part of their peers.
On Tuesday morning, searchers patiently formed a long line stretching out the door of the vacant Burnett Elementary School’s gymnasium and continuing a few hundred yards north on Dougherty Avenue.
Many said the disappearance, and what police now consider a likely kidnapping, “hits too close to home” even if they traveled from many miles away to help in the search effort.
Omar Solares, 34, was standing in line with his grandparents Gil and Luanne Solares to help with the search. Omar has two teenage sons and a niece who is about the same age as Sierra, 15. They came from San Jose to help, and have been following Sierra’s search in the news since the weekend after she was reported missing.
“I can’t imagine what the family is going through, and we want to help make sure there is some closure,” said Gil Solares, 63. Luanne added they have been waiting for the public to be invited to an organized search opportunity such as the one started Tuesday at Burnett.
After standing in line and registering, the searchers were briefed by KlaasKids personnel and volunteers on what to look for, how to search, what to do if they find anything that might be useful and how to be safe. Parties of 30 to 45 volunteers were sent out to various areas in the South County area. The groups were then driven to the targeted search locations, which included rural, unincorporated areas in and around Morgan Hill.
The search is organized by KlaasKids Foundation, which is devoted to efforts to find missing children nationwide. The foundation was asked by Sierra’s mother, Marlene LaMar, to participate in the effort to find Sierra.
The effort to include volunteers in the search will remain open at least through the end of this week, and anyone interested in joining can line up outside the school starting at 8 a.m., and until 1 p.m. through Saturday.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies are working with the KlaasKids Foundation.
After conducting a number of organized, exhaustive searches conducted by area search-and-rescue officers, interviewing hundreds of people associated with Sierra, and following up on scores of leads, the sheriff’s office declared Tuesday, 11 days after the teen was reported missing, that it is “highly unlikely she ran away,” according to a press release from Cardoza.
“Sheriff’s detectives are concentrating their investigative efforts on the possibility that Sierra LaMar was taken from the area of her residence and is an involuntary missing person,” Cardoza said.
For the first few days of the investigation, investigators left open the possibility that Sierra ran away, even though no obvious evidence or her background specifically indicated such a scenario. The detectives were led to this conclusion after interviewing Sierra’s relatives and friends and completing other investigative efforts, Cardoza said.
The investigation so far indicates that Sierra has no prior history of running away, and had no negative family issues, police said.
Authorities are also asking the community to be on the lookout for any suspicious – or even unusual – behavior among their neighbors, co-workers and other associates. This could include “someone who suddenly changes their appearance, recently cleaned their vehicle in an excessive manner, has unexpectedly missed work days, and/or obsesses or avoids media reports about the case,” Cardoza said.
“Sierra is a member of our community,” Cardoza said. “The person responsible for Sierra’s disappearance may not live in the area, but has a familiarity and comfort in the Morgan Hill community.”
At Burnett Elementary School, organizers and volunteers working with KlaasKids Foundation registered at least 686 people who volunteered their morning and afternoon to search for Sierra, said Dori Prado, a volunteer from Morgan Hill. One of the volunteers was from Alabama, and one was from Florida, though most were from California and the Bay Area to Hollister.
Stefan Medina, 36 and a lifelong resident of Morgan Hill, was preparing to go out with a group of 30 volunteers just after 9 a.m., after all had been briefed by KlaasKids staff. He showed up at 7:30 a.m. to stand in line.
“I’m concerned. I’ve got kids, and we’ve got to bring this to a closure,” Medina said.
His group had been dispatched to search a “remote” unincorporated area in south San Jose, off McKean Road, Medina said.
“They told us what to look for, and if you see something not to touch anything. They gave us GPS trackers,” Medina said.
Burnett Elementary School is located at 85 Tilton Ave., and KlaasKids staff and volunteers will begin registering searchers again Wednesday and through Saturday, starting at 8 a.m. All searchers must be age 18 or older, and have a photo identification.
For more information about how to participate in the search, people can call (408) 201-6364.
Sierra LaMar, a sophomore at Sobrato High school, is about 5-feet, 2-inches tall with a thin build and dark hair.
Investigators found her cell phone Saturday, March 17, in a field off the road at Scheller Avenue and Santa Teresa Boulevard – about three-quarters of a mile from her house where she lives with her mother and mother’s boyfriend. On Sunday, authorities found her Juicy brand purse, containing “neatly folded” pants, a T-shirt and undergarments off the side of the road at Santa Teresa Boulevard and Laguna Avenue.
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 sccgov.org/portal/ site/sheriff. Information can also be submitted by text at 421-6760.