SALT LAKE CITY – Police called for help in the "desperate" search for a 5-year-old girl who vanished from a tiny ranch house shared by 10 young people — a loose circle of couples and friends who opened their door to reporters on Wednesday and showed where the girl slept in a corner of the basement.
"We all feel like suspects," said Jeff Hansen, in a back yard where Destiny Norton was last seen on Sunday. FBI agents and police detectives "have been grilling us over and over. They've been in our house 15 times over. I think it's safe to assume she's not here."
The girl's parents, Rick and Rachael Norton, were being questioned Wednesday at police headquarters, said friends, who claimed the couple had passed polygraph tests. Police refused to confirm that.
Rick Norton, a 30-year-old construction laborer, was heating a TV dinner when the girl, who had just taken a bath, asked to be let out in the fenced back yard, which has a wood gate she could have opened.
The girl vanished in the five or 10 minutes it took him to check on her, housemates said.
Detective Robin Snyder said police had no reason to believe the parents had anything to do with the girl's disappearance, but "I don't think that we can clear anybody at this point."
"We're asking that everyone search in their back yards, in their garages," Snyder said. "We hope that with local and national coverage, Destiny will be recognized across the nation and that anyone who sees her will call the police."
Investigators said the squalor of the Norton's shared house figured in their investigation but they refused to voice any conclusion about it. Rachael Norton is eight months' pregnant.
A few blocks away, police and FBI agents were questioning housemates and friends of the Nortons at a ward house of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where volunteers set up a command post.
"They're talking to everyone that's close to the family. They want to eliminate suspects," said Zach Willner, another resident at the communal house, who said he moved in with his girlfriend about two weeks ago.
The Nortons had just returned with Destiny and a younger daughter from a "drum circle," a regular Sunday event at nearby Liberty Park, a few hours before her disappearance, Willner said.
"If anybody can find this girl, we can. We've all been on the streets. We know where to look," said Jeannie Hill, a friend and spokeswoman for the Nortons.
Hill said their circle of friends included former "gutter punks" who were reaching adulthood, getting jobs, having children — "and most of us are voters, too."
About 150 volunteers fanned out Wednesday, moving from city neighborhoods into nearby canyons in the search for the girl.
Police spent the first days after the girl's disappearance combing a 5-square-block area around the Nortons' house but found no sign of the girl. A $15,000 reward has been offered for information leading to a resolution in the case and a Find Destiny Web site has been established.
Destiny — 3 1/2 feet tall and about 45 pounds, with brown eyes and blonde hair — was last seen wearing only a long black and gray T-shirt. She has a distinctive bottom row of silver-capped teeth.
On Monday, police questioned a 51-year old man who had been acquitted of child sex abuse charges in 2002, but he was released from custody. They also questioned about 100 registered sex offenders who live in the area.