Dive teams join search for Sierra

A volunteer search and rescue crew searches thick brush surrounding Calero Reservoir along McKean Road looking for any evidence in the disappearance of Sierra LaMar.

Another search-and-rescue effort to find missing 15-year-old Sierra LaMar is scheduled for today, and will include sheriff’s office dive teams searching underwater in South County reservoirs. 

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, who is leading the investigation into Sierra’s disappearance, confirmed Tuesday that they are now treating the case as an abduction or “involuntary missing person” case, according to Sgt. Jose Cardoza. 

The sheriff’s office dive team began searching underwater at Calero Reservoir and Chesbro reservoir Tuesday afternoon, Cardoza said. Today the divers will expand the underwater search to Uvas reservoir and Parkway Lakes – both in southern Santa Clara County. 

The dive team will start the water searches by using K-9 search animals trained specifically to detect human remains submerged in water, Cardoza explained. The dive team will carry the dogs onto the lakes on boats, and respond to their reactions. 

The search-and-rescue K-9 specializes in water borne detection,” Cardoza said.  “No actual diving will take place unless the K-9 detects possible human remains in the water.”

Sierra has been missing from her north Morgan Hill home, near Palm and Dougherty avenues, since March 16. Police found her cell phone March 17 in a field about three-quarters of a mile northwest of her home. On March 18, investigators found her purse, which contained a “neatly folded” pair of pants and T-shirt, about another mile north on Santa Teresa Boulevard, near Laguna Avenue.

Those items are the only physical evidence that police have reported finding in relation to Sierra’s disappearance. More than 150 interviews with Sierra’s family, friends and acquaintances in Morgan Hill and Fremont, where she moved from with her mother and mother’s boyfriend in October 2011, have concluded that its is “highly unlikely” that the Sobrato High School sophomore ran away on her own. 

The sheriff’s office has spent more than 3,000 personnel hours on the search, and followed up on more than 500 tips received via phone calls and emails, Cardoza said. Law enforcement agencies from surrounding counties, as well as the FBI have also aided in the search efforts. 

Today’s heightened search-and-rescue operations will also take place on the ground, focusing on the areas north of Palm Avenue and south of Bailey Road, including the Coyote Creek area, Anderson reservoir and Monterey Road west to the foothills, Cardoza said. 

The search will start at 2 p.m. and continue until sunset. 

The KlaasKids Foundation is in need of more volunteers to help comb the many vast remote unincorporated areas in South County where evidence of Sierra’s abduction might be found. 

The foundation, which is devoted to finding missing children nationwide, started organizing volunteers earlier this week, asking those interested to meet at the temporary “Sierra Search Center,” at Burnett Elementary School starting Tuesday morning. 

While nearly 700 people from all over the Bay Area and South Santa Clara Valley showed up to help Tuesday, today’s attendance is slower, perhaps because of the rainy weather, according to organizers. As of about 10 a.m., less than 150 people showed up to volunteer, and there was no line of people waiting to sign up. 

Many of those offering their time to search today also volunteered Tuesday, according to volunteer Dori Prado. 

The KlaasKids Foundation was asked by Sierra’s mother, Marlene LaMar, to organize the volunteer search operations. The foundation works with law enforcement to coordinate efforts and determine the best areas on which to focus. 

The volunteer search center will continue at least until Saturday, or until Sierra is found. Those who wish to search can go to the school at 85 Tilton Avenue, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the rest of the week. Volunteers are required to register with a valid photo identification, and must be 18 or older. 

Annette Nevarez, 47, was helping to register volunteers Tuesday. Nevarez is the mother of slain Sobrato High School freshman Tara Romero, 14, who was gunned down in a drive-by attack in Morgan Hill Nov. 4, 2011. Three of Romero’s friends were also shot in the incident at Cosmo and Del Monte avenues, but they survived.

Romero’s mother said Tara and Sierra’s paths didn’t cross much at school – Sierra only moved to Morgan Hill from Fremont less than a month before Tara died. But she thinks they would have liked each other. 

“Sierra went to my daughter’s school,” Nevarez said. “I don’t know her. I know a lot of kids that saw her at school. I want to support her family any way I can.” 

Sierra LaMar, a sophomore at Sobrato High school, is about 5-feet, 2-inches tall with a thin build and dark hair. 

For more information on the Sierra LaMar Search Center, call (408) 201-6364.

Anyone with information on the case can contact Santa Clara County Communications at 299-2311, or send an e-mail to [email protected].

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.

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