Search for Missing Georgia Hiker Scaled Back, Suspect Due in Court

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The search for a 24-year-old hiker who disappeared from the northern Georgia woods on New Year's Day will be scaled back, authorities said Sunday.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said the search for Meredith Emerson will not stop, but that only trained search and rescue individuals and law enforcement will be involved on Monday. Authorities believe Emerson is no longer alive.

"We're not going to be using volunteers starting tomorrow," Bankhead said. "Given the scenario and the fact that it's a recovery effort, the mission has changed."

Also on Monday, the man accused of abudcting Emerson is scheduled to appear in court. Authorities served a warrant Saturday evening charging Gary Michael Hilton, 61, with kidnapping with bodily injury.

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More than 150 people fanned out in the northern Georgia woods Sunday looking for Emerson's body.

Investigators had recovered three bloody fleece tops like the she wore and said they held out little hope of finding her alive.

Hilton, who investigators have said was the last person seen with Emerson on the trail, was detained Friday after trying to use Emerson's credit card, according to the warrant.

The bloody fleece tops and a bloodstained piece of a car's seat belt were found in a trash bin beside a convenience store where Hilton had used a pay phone, the warrant stated. Hilton had attempted to vacuum and wash portions of his 2001 Chevrolet Astro van, which was found without the rear seat belt, according to the document.

Hilton was already in federal custody near Atlanta, held on a warrant for failure to appear in court on a charge of abandoning property in a national park. He was not cooperating with authorities, Bankhead said.

Union County Officer Gayle Bachelor declined to allow The Associated Press to speak with him by phone.

Search teams focused again Sunday on a 5-square-mile area of mountainous terrain about 90 miles north of Atlanta in the Chattahoochee National Forest, near where Emerson's car was discovered Wednesday, Bankhead said.

The search had been focused on Vogel State Park, at the base of Blood Mountain, where Emerson was last seen on New Year's Day hiking with her black Labrador retriever, Ella.

The dog was found 50 miles away Friday in a grocery store parking lot in Cumming, a suburb north of Atlanta, and identified using an implanted microchip.

Vogel is one of Georgia's oldest and most popular state parks. The area includes a segment of the Appalachian Trail, the famous hiking route that stretches from Georgia to Maine.