RUSKIN, Fla. – Just weeks after the search for 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford ended in heartbreak, Florida authorities were searching for another missing girl, hoping for a completely different outcome.
About 175 law enforcement officials and 200 volunteers were looking for Sarah Michelle Lunde (search), including Jessica Lunsford's father.
Detectives on Friday alerted searchers for a possible key piece of evidence: a bottle of Budweiser or Bud Lite that had allegedly been taken from the girl's home by a registered sex offender around the time she disappeared.
Searches were told to keep an eye out for empty bottles of those brands of beer and not to disturb them, but to alert officials instead. David Onstott (search), a sex offender who once dated Sarah's mother, grabbed a half-empty bottle of beer off her family's kitchen table before leaving during an unexpected predawn appearance at the home Sunday, the girl's 17-year-old brother, Andrew, said.
Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee has refused to call Onstott a suspect, but said Friday "he certainly has our attention."
Also joining the search was the father of another girl who had been slain by a sex offender: Roy Brown's daughter Amanda was killed by a convicted child molester in 1997.
Gee said Thursday that investigators had just a scant 43 telephone leads to go on. He appealed for public help, offering a $10,000 reward and urging property owners in the rural area about 30 miles southeast of Tampa to search their lands.
Gee said the area in a three-quarter mile radius of the girl's home was searched thoroughly and volunteers also drove along rural roads looking in ditches for any sign of the teen, whose life has been punctuated by trouble but who had found solace in a local church.
Kelly May Lunde, appearing exhausted and drawn, appealed to the public for help.
"There area lot of parents out there who can imagine what myself and my family are going through," she said. "...We are just heartbroken. We just want to get her home as soon as possible."
Comforting the Lunde family was Lunsford, his grief still fresh from the February slaying of his daughter. He had shown up at 7 a.m. Thursday to search.
"It's horrible things like this are taking place," Lunsford said.
Also coming to the family's aid was Brown, who became a child-protection activist after his 7-year-old daughter disappeared from her Hillsborough County (search) home. Willie Crain, a man with a history of child molestation who knew the girl's mother, was convicted of Amanda's murder; her body was never found.
Brown said he spent time with Kelly May Lunde to offer his support while many members of the girl's extended family joined ground searches.
"She's in a haze," Brown said of Kelly May Lunde. "That's what you do. You try to act like you are here, but you aren't."
Sarah Lunde, who has a history of running away, hasn't been seen since about 9 p.m. Saturday, shortly after she returned home from a church trip. She wasn't reported missing until Monday, when her mother learned the teen wasn't at a friend's house.
The girl had spent much of the weekend with the youth group at the First Apostolic Church, just blocks from her home. About three years ago, the girl started coming alone to the church, said Sherry Cook, who founded the church with her husband 26 years ago. The church became a place where Sarah could find comfort, support and guidance for her problems, Cook said.
"I'm going to hold out until the last hope is gone," Cook said.
"Every now and then it hits you," she continued. "I'd be happy if she ran away — isn't that horrible?"
Andrew Lunde said Onstott, 36, showed up at the family's home before dawn Sunday and asked for the teens' mother, with whom he'd broken up with months earlier.
Lunde said that when he told Onstott that his mother wasn't home, Onstott grabbed a half-empty bottle of beer from the kitchen and left. Andrew Lunde said the bottle hadn't been there at midnight when he left for a few hours to get something to eat.
The brother said that when he came home at 4 a.m., the front door was open and his sister was gone. Onstott woke him up about an hour later.
Onstott was arrested Tuesday after he allegedly threatened another man with a screwdriver at a bar. He had spent 51/2 years in prison after being convicted in 1995 of sexual battery with physical force. The victim, an adult acquaintance, testified Onstott knocked on her door, asked to use the bathroom, then threw her on the floor and raped her.
David Onstott Sr. had said he doesn't think his son is involved in Sarah's disappearance, saying he wouldn't hurt a girl.
The sheriff's office also interviewed the girl's father, who lives in Zephyrhills, about 50 miles north of Ruskin. He is not considered a suspect, Gee said.
Sarah is 5-feet-2 and 170 pounds, with brown hair below her shoulders and hazel eyes. She was last seen wearing a white T-shirt and orange and blue basketball shorts. She has a bright green half cast on her left arm from a wrist injury.
Ruskin is about 100 miles south of Homosassa, where a three-week search for Lunsford's daughter ended with the discovery of her body last month. John Evander Couey, a registered sex offender who stayed at a nearby home, has been charged with her slaying.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.