HOMOSASSA, Fla. – The family of a missing 9-year-old girl who disappeared from her bedroom pleaded for her return Friday, calling her an "angel" who needs to be home. Hundreds of police and volunteers combed the area for clues but suspended the physical search when darkness fell. The effort is expected to continue on Saturday.
"It amazes me that we haven't uncovered anything to take us in a specific direction," Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy (search) said in a late afternoon news conference. "We are turning every rock we can turn and following every lead we can possibly follow."
The father and grandparents of Jessica Marie Lunsford cried as they described a girl who they say would never run away.
"I want my daughter home," said Mark Lunsford, who discovered his daughter missing when he returned Thursday morning to the rural home he shares with his daughter and his parents. "If there is anything anybody knows, there are a lot of numbers you can call. Help me find my daughter and bring her home."
More than 100 police and volunteers searched the local area, including numerous marshes and ponds, with assistance from bloodhounds and helicopters.
The FBI (search) interviewed the girl's mother, Angela Bryant, 31, who lives in Morrow, Ohio. She told The Associated Press that the girl is not with her and had not lived with her since she was 1 year old. The FBI confirmed that Mrs. Bryant, who has remarried, is not under arrest.
"I don't know where she is," said a tearful Bryant, adding that she hadn't seen her daughter for four years. "Her dad didn't let me see her."
Police recovered the body of a white female on Friday from a lake in Hillsborough County (search), some 50 miles to the south, but authorities quickly determined it was not Jessica. It appeared to be that of an adult.
Dawsy said that a computer in the girl's home was being examined for possible clues and added that she had recently taken a computer safety class about the threats posed in cyberspace. There have been cases where adults have abducted children they have met in Internet chat rooms.
In addition, a doll that the sheriff declined to describe was discovered missing from her room, which he said was immaculate.
One of about 40 local volunteers, 78-year-old Arnold West, said he was joining the search because "we just want to do whatever we can do to help find her."
Mark Lunsford discovered his daughter missing about 6 a.m. Thursday when he came home after spending the night with a girlfriend. Dawsy said Lunsford's story has checked out.
Lunsford said he heard his daughter's alarm clock sounding when he entered the home about 75 miles north of Tampa. He took a shower and prepared for work. He then noticed Jessica's alarm was still going off, so he looked inside her room and found her gone. The clothes she had laid out for school were in place and none of her shoes were gone. He has told investigators a door was unlocked.
Jessica's grandmother, Ruth Lunsford, said Jessica had attended church Wednesday night, then came home, had a snack, took a shower and put on a nightgown. The third grader then asked her grandmother to tuck her in.
Ruth Lunsford said her granddaughter is a careful, obedient child "who doesn't roam." The grandmother said the bedroom she shares with the girl's grandfather is at the front of the home and they would have heard a car pulling into the driveway.
"She's a friendly child. She's very smart, very well mannered and she's a beautiful child. When God made Jessie, he made an angel," her grandmother said. "We have always called her Princess. If somebody's got her, she needs to be with her family."
Jessica is described as white, 4 feet 10 inches tall, weighing 70 pounds, with light brown shoulder-length hair and brown eyes.
A national missing child alert has been issued to law enforcement agencies nationwide but officials stopped short of putting out an Amber Alert, which is broadcast on radio and television and included on highway information signs. Florida's Amber Plan requires the availability of a detailed vehicle or abductor description before it is activated.