HOMOSASSA, Fla. – A body that turned up in a lake near where a young girl disappeared is not that of the missing 9-year-old, police said Friday evening.
Addressing rumors that had been swirling about the discovery, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy told reporters that a female body found in a lake was not that of Jessica Marie Lunsford (search), who disappeared from her bedroom earlier this week in a case reminiscent of that of Utah girl Elizabeth Smart (search).
"They have totally discarded this woman as being anything involving our missing child," Dawsy said in a Friday evening news conference, one of several he held throughout the day.
He said he'd notified Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, about the body because he didn't want him to learn about it on TV first, but he didn't tell the girl's paternal grandmother, Ruth Lunsford.
"They went through an emotional rollercoaster," Dawsy said. "The dad was emotional, as you can imagine. I was able to go back and tell him that was not Jessica."
The lake where the body was found is reportedly some 70 miles from where an intense search is underway for Jessica, who vanished — seemingly without a trace — from her bedroom Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. The girl was last seen about 10 p.m. Wednesday when her paternal grandmother put her to bed.
Jessica, a third-grader at Homosassa Elementary School, is described as a white girl, 4-feet-10 inches tall, weighing 70 pounds, with light brown shoulder-length hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a silk pink nightgown and silk white shorts.
Homosassa is about 85 miles north of Tampa and 76 miles west of Orlando.
Thick fog followed by torrential rains on Thursday night into Friday made it impossible for police to search for the child by helicopter, according to Dawsy, though divers were looking through ponds in the area.
"We're looking for anything right now," Dawsy told the media early Friday afternoon.
Mark Lunsford said discovered his daughter missing about 6 a.m. Thursday when he arrived home. He lives in the house with Jessica and his parents.
"I plead with everyone to please help us find my daughter," Lunsford told FOX News on Friday.
After a delay in locating the child's mother, Angela Bryant — who lives in Ohio — Dawsy said she'd been found and was interviewed by the FBI (search).
Michael Brooks, an FBI spokesman in Cincinnati, would not comment on what the FBI discussed with Angela Bryant but said she had not been arrested or detained.
Mark Lunsford told FOX News on Friday that he didn't suspect Jessica's mother, but he didn't know exactly where she was because he hadn't been in touch with her.
"There's not been that much contact between Jessie and her mom, unfortunately — for I don't know what reasons," he told FOX News. "That's the way it's been all her life. She's been with me. I know her mother loves her and when she hears about this, it's just going to be awful for her."
Bryant, 31, of Morrow, Ohio, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday that she has no idea where her daughter is. She said she hasn't seen Jessica in four years, and that Mark Lunsford, who has legal custody, repeatedly refused to let her see the girl.
Bryant, who has remarried and has a 5-year-old son, said she hadn't known Mark Lunsford and Jessica had moved to Florida until seeing news reports Friday about the girl's disappearance.
Lunsford told FOX that he was home with his parents until "after Jessie went to bed" and then he went out for the evening and "spent the night with a friend," while his parents stayed in the house with his daughter.
When Lunsford returned home the next morning, he said he heard Jessica's alarm clock going off.
"When I went into her room, she wasn't there," he told FOX on Friday.
He said he found a door unlocked when he got back, which was unusual because he and his parents "usually keep the house locked."
He told FOX News he didn't think any older friend of the family could have snatched Jessica.
"I keep all my friends to myself," Lunsford said.
Dawsy said Lunsford's story about his whereabouts Wednesday night has held up and he is not a suspect. Nor are the grandparents.
"We’ve never considered them as possible suspects," Dawsy said Friday afternoon. "They are very integral in the case because they were the last to see her."
But police aren't ruling anyone out either.
"Nobody is eliminated until I know where that little girl is," Dawsy said Friday evening.
Jessica's grandmother, Ruth Lunsford, said the girl got home from a youth church meeting Wednesday night and did what she always did — had a snack, took a shower and got ready to go to sleep.
"Then she said, 'Come on, Grandma, you've got to put me to bed,'" her grandmother told reporters Friday. "I always put her to bed."
Dawsy said the girl has no history of running away and the clothes she had laid out for school — including all her shoes — were still in place when she was discovered missing. He said one doll was also missing, though he declined to give further details.
"This is a very unusual case," Dawsy said. "There's been no forced entry ... This doesn't fit her character — a young girl this age walking out with a nightgown and no shoes ... We don’t have a vehicle and we don’t have a suspect … I ask everybody to look. If anything seems suspicious to you or doesn’t feel well, call us. You may have a little piece of the puzzle."
Dawsy said tips could be called into (352) 726-1121 or (352) 726-4488.
Citrus County Sheriff's officials said a nationwide missing child alert has been issued for the girl, who may be in danger. About 75 to 100 enforcement officers, including some from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, were looking for the girl.
Officials stopped short of putting out an Amber Alert (search). Florida's Amber plan is activated when there is a detailed vehicle or abductor description to disseminate through broadcasters and highway information signs.
The girl did have Internet access, and her computer was being investigated by authorities, according to Dawsy. He said authorities didn't believe she'd been abducted by a predator she'd met online, but they were looking into the possibility anyway.
"That's always a concern," Dawsy told reporters.
Former FBI agent Eddie Freyer told FOX News on Friday that those involved in the hunt were "doing a very intensive neighborhood investigation," knocking on doors and trying to reconstruct what might have happened.
"It was somebody who most likely knew that Jessica was there, most likely knew the situation at the residence," Freyer said.
Family friend Sharon Armstrong said she saw Jessica at church Wednesday night and everything seemed normal.
"Jessie is a very obedient and loving child and loves her grandmother very much," Armstrong told Today. "She would never just walk out of the house."
Citrus County Schools Superintendent Sam Himmel told FOX News that the district was working closely with the sheriff's department, all staff members had been notified of Jessica's disappearance and her photo was being circulated.
"I can't say how many nice things I've heard about her," Himmel said Friday. "She was a great kid. We've all got a lot of concern for her."
She said officials were in the process of interviewing students, teachers and staff at the schools.
"When God made Jessie, he made an angel," her grandmother said. "We have always called her 'Princess.'"
FOX News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans, Orlando Salinas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.