BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – A high-ranking Kyrgyz police official said Friday that authorities have no clues about the possible location of a U.S. Air Force officer who went missing three days earlier while visiting a department store in the Central Asia nation's capital.
"The search is on, but with no results yet. There are no leads to where she might be," Deputy Interior minister Omurbek Suvanaliyev said of Maj. Jill Metzger, 33, who went missing just days before she was to return home after a stint at a base supporting U.S. operations in nearby Afghanistan.
A spokeswoman at the base, Capt. Anna Carpenter, spoke with a more positive tone, saying that "things are developing." But she said "it's not at the point where there's a clear picture" of what transpired after Metzger was separated from other servicemen while visiting Bishkek's main department store, TsUM, on Tuesday.
Carpenter repeated that nothing has been ruled out in the investigation and search, speaking a day after Kyrgyz Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov said he had ruled out a kidnapping. He said that police had received no demand for ransom.
At least 22 U.S. military investigators and logistics officers, many from the Air Force, have converged on the remote nation to try to find Metzger, who Carpenter said had recently handed over her post as personnel officer at the Manas base to her successor.
Metzger, a former resident of Henderson, North Carolina, was serving a four-month stint at the base with the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing. Her normal duty station is Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, as a member of the 347th Mission Support Squadron.
Interior Ministry spokesman Nurdin Jangarayev told The Associated Press that Metzger and another U.S. servicewoman were recorded on a security camera Tuesday afternoon as they entered TsUM, a large, boxy building on a main avenue, sometimes with heavy traffic and a jumble of cars and taxicabs parked nearby.
She separated from her companion three minutes later, Jangarayev said. Over the next three hours, two calls were placed to her cellular phone but neither was answered; records show that the phone was in the area of Bishkek's bus station when one call was placed, but was in another neighborhood for a later call, he said.
Jangarayev said that could mean that her phone was in someone else's hands or that she was unconscious. The ministry, which oversees the police, is also trying to establish the holder of a phone she called about 45 minutes before she was last seen, he said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Metzger was wearing civilian clothes — blue jeans and a green sweater — at the time.
The Pentagon on Thursday formally declared her missing, or "duty status whereabouts unknown."
The U.S. military has maintained an air base at Kyrgyzstan's main civilian Manas airport since 2001, when U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Base officials also announced new travel restrictions Thursday, barring all off-duty servicemen and women from leaving the base until the missing officer is found.