Despite Large-Scale Search, Still No Sign of Missing Middlebury College Freshman

The more the snow melts, the more the mystery deepens: What happened to Nicholas Garza?

The disappearance of the 19-year-old Middlebury College freshman — missing since he walked out of a dormitory Feb. 5 — continues to puzzle searchers, with no trace of him on campus, no suggestion he left and no indication of foul play.

On Thursday, for the first time in more than a month, a large-scale search was conducted using dozens of Vermont State Police members and search experts, but it turned up nothing.

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The hope had been that the gradual disappearance of the snow pack could end the uncertainty. Tom Scanlon, a police spokesman, said searchers would try again in two weeks.

Members of the Vermont State Police's search-and-rescue team, with help from the Colchester Technical Rescue Squad and New England K-9 Search and Rescue, scoured the campus for Garza's body or clues to his disappearance.

Garza was last seen leaving Stewart Hall at about 11:05 p.m., headed for his dormitory, about 500 yards away.

When friends couldn't find him the next day, they notified campus security, but his mother didn't file a missing persons report until five days later because friends thought Garza might have left campus to go to a cabin that was out of cell phone range.

Searches of the 350-acre campus have yielded no clues as to what happened to him. The last large-scale search ended Feb. 23, though there have been spot searches since then. All 109 buildings on campus have been searched twice, as have roofs.

On Thursday, searchers used long Fiberglas poles, search dogs and global positioning systems to keep track of the areas covered. They looked near Otter Creek and in the north end of campus, where students were on spring break.

The poles were used to poke holes in the snow, in the hope that the holes would lead to a scent that the dogs could respond to, said Scanlon, who called it a recovery operation, not a rescue.

Snow depth has been a major concern throughout the investigation, as New England has endured one of the snowiest winters on record.

Garza's mother, Natalie Garza, of Albuquerque, N.M., who has maintained a constant vigil here, was not talking to reporters Thursday, hoping to keep the focus on the search, according to Middlebury College spokesman Stephen Diehl.

Foul play is not suspected, police said. A $20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to Garza's return.

"There's always been the hope for Nick's safe return," said college spokesman Sarah Ray. "It's just a sad situation and people continue to deal with it as best they can."