Where is Sierra?: Divers search South County ponds

Divers from the Santa Clara County dive team search the Ogier Avenue percolation ponds in north Morgan Hill for evidence related to the search for Sierra LaMar. 

Divers from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office spent the afternoon searching a group of percolation ponds along Coyote Creek for evidence that might lead them to the whereabouts of Sierra LaMar, 15, who has been missing since March 16.

Deputies and a park ranger at the site on the east side of Monterey Road, near Ogier Avenue and east of the Parkway Lakes RV Park in north Morgan Hill, did not say if any specific evidence led them to the location or if they found anything in the water Wednesday.

The search was part of another heightened search by the sheriff’s office’s search-and-rescue teams that started Wednesday afternoon. The search focused on the area around Palm Avenue and south of Bailey Road, including the Coyote Creek area, Anderson reservoir, and Monterey Road west to the foothills, Sgt. Jose Cardoza said. 

The sheriff’s office dive team was deployed to Calero reservoir and Chesbro reservoir Tuesday, and then to the percolation ponds today. 

The sheriff’s office, which 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 Cardoza. Furthermore, they think the person or people responsible for her disappearance may live in Morgan Hill, or are at least familiar with the area. 

Sierra has been missing from her north Morgan Hill home, near Palm and Dougherty avenues, since March 16. She usually walks to her school bus stop at Palm and Dougherty avenues each morning. Police and her family said she never made it to the bus stop March 16, and she did not go to school that day. 

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 Sierra’s 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 100 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. 

Residents of the Parkway Lakes RV Park, along with thousands of people all over South County, are eagerly awaiting closure to the case. Two of the RV park’s residents who were outside watching the deputies and divers enter the marshy area surrounding the percolation ponds said they heard a vehicle pull up outside the locked gate late in the night after Sierra was reported missing.

James Silver, 15, said he did not see the vehicle but he heard it pull up to the gate late Saturday night. He was inside his grandmother’s motorhome. He heard the car doors shut, and two men exit. He heard them talking briefly, and the vehicle left about 15 minutes later. One of Silver’s neighbors, Helen Robison, 47, said she heard the same thing but did not see the vehicle or the men associated with it.

Silver’s grandmother, Sandy Mullican, 68, said she was walking her dog a few hours after that, about 4 a.m. Sunday, and heard a loud screaming sound. But she and other residents indicated that the area is inhabited with mountain lions and bobcats, which sometimes make screaming sounds.

“I wasn’t going to stay around and find out,” Mullican said. 

The area between the RV Park and U.S. 101, where the percolation ponds are, is a remote area covered with wild grass, thick brush and woods. 

“I’ve been praying for that little girl every day,” Mullican added. 

Residents also noted that another neighbor, whose name they did not know, was contacted Sunday by what appeared to be parole officers. The resident was detained, but Cardoza said so far no one has been arrested or detained in connection with Sierra’s disappearance. 

Part of the investigation has included interviews and contacts with all known sex offenders, and other residents on probation or parole. 

These recent occurrences are unusual for the RV Park. 

“This is a real quiet place. Nothing ever happens here,” said George Freeman, 59, who has lived at the RV Park for six years. 

The sheriff’s diving team plans to search all the waterways in the South County area in their efforts to find Sierra, Cardoza said. The dive teams typically conduct surface searches of the waterways first, and then use specially trained K-9 search animals to look for any sign that human remains might be found underwater. 

Investigators were able to conclude that Sierra did not run away on her own based on “the totality of the circumstances,” which include the interviews with family, friends and acquaintances in Morgan Hill and Fremont. Sierra moved to Morgan Hill from Fremont in October 2011, and has several friends who still live in the East Bay city.

The determination that the unknown suspect or suspects in the possible abduction is familiar and comfortable with Morgan Hill is based partially on the location of Sierra’s home, Cardoza said. Police think she was likely picked up or abducted close to her residence. 

“She lives in a secluded area,” Cardoza said. “There’s not much of a chance that she’s going to have contact with transients or strangers” who are unfamiliar with the area. 

Cardoza clarified that the official designation of Sierra as an “involuntary missing person” could mean she was abducted, kidnapped, or she voluntary ran away but ended up with someone who turned out to have malicious intent. 

No specific evidence so far points more heavily toward any one of those options, he added. 

In addition to law enforcement, hundreds of volunteers have signed up to aid in the search for Sierra. The KlaasKids Foundation, a nationwide nonprofit that is devoted to finding missing children, organized the volunteer search effort that is based out of Burnett Elementary School on Tilton Avenue. 

Close to 700 people showed up to search Tuesday, and about 300 volunteered today. The search center is still asking volunteers to help through Friday of this week. Anyone interested can go to the school, at 85 Tilton Ave., from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. to help. 

Sierra LaMar 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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