ST. MARTINS, Mo. – Dozens of people were searching a rural, wooded area in central Missouri on Thursday for a 9-year-old girl who did not return home after visiting a friend a night earlier.
Cole County Sheriff Greg White said Elizabeth Olten left the friend's house around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday and was supposed to walk about a quarter mile to her home in St. Martins, just west of Jefferson City. She was reported missing around 7 p.m.
Elizabeth was listed as an "endangered missing person" and the FBI joined the case, White said. The sheriff said it did not appear that the girl had run away from home, but no Amber Alert had been issued because there was no evidence of an abduction or foul play.
Onna Adrian, whose daughter-in-law is Elizabeth's older sister, said Elizabeth generally walked home from the friend's house through neighbors' yards rather than along the two-lane county highway that runs past their houses.
Adrian said Elizabeth did not normally hide out and, if confronted, would have screamed and tried to run away.
"She is very shy," Adrian said. "She's not the type to get in a vehicle with anybody."
Elizabeth, who has long brown hair and brown eyes, is about 5-feet, 2-inches tall and weighs 102 pounds. She was last seen wearing a pink scarf, sweater and T-shirt with butterflies, blue jeans and white shoes.
Adrian said the girl's mother did not want to talk to a reporter Thursday. Elizabeth's father, Dale Olten Sr., has been in a Missouri prison since April serving a four-year sentence for drug possession.
The search focused on a section of woods several hundred yards in diameter, which police had narrowed by triangulating the girl's cell phone location, White said. But the battery had died by Thursday morning. An uneven terrain, high brush and soaking weather hampered the search effort.
"If you go to Iowa and look at a flat piece of farmland that's 140 acres, you go, `well it's not that big.' You translate that to Missouri and you use the same thing, you walk a long time to cover that same amount of land," White said. "It's muddy out there now. It's difficult terrain, it's difficult weather."
Emergency vehicles from various agencies were parked along the highway that runs past the houses. Among the nearby farm fields is a large, muddy brown pond.
On Wednesday night, the Missouri State Highway Patrol searched for Elizabeth using a helicopter with a thermal imaging radar. But White said fall foliage hindered that effort. Around 2:30 a.m. Thursday, all but one search team broke.
When the full search of about 60 people resumed later in the morning, a team with dogs used by the Department of Corrections joined officials from nearby fire departments and numerous state and local police agencies.