CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Charlottesville's police chief said Sunday that an anguished statement from the parents of a missing University of Virginia student has given investigators fresh resolve to carry on with the difficult search of hundreds square miles of countryside.
Police Chief Timothy Longo said that law enforcement is aggressively searching areas surrounding Charlottesville — many of which are hilly or thick with brush — for Hannah Graham, who disappeared on Sept. 13.
He said he hopes that the plight of Hannah's parents moves anyone who may have information about the disappearance to come forward.
"This young lady disappeared. She was taken. Somebody has to know something. Somebody has to have seen something," he said in a short interview Sunday afternoon.
A team of about 100 law enforcement officers and other trained searchers were combing the countryside over the weekend for any sign of the college sophomore. Teams have been searching every day since the 18-year-old student vanished.
On Saturday, her parents made an emotional plea for whoever is responsible for the disappearance to help find their daughter. In the videotaped statement, Sue Graham said: "Please, please, please help end this nightmare for all of us." The Grahams also thanked law enforcement for their efforts.
Longo said that while the timing of the release of the statement wasn't strategic, the Grahams want to assist the search effort. Law enforcement has received more than 3,300 tips, and thousands of people have seen the video carried by news organizations around the country.
"They don't want this to be about them. They want this to be about their daughter, and their fear is that if they're out there, this suddenly becomes about them," he said. "But they've also said: 'If we can be helpful to communicate a message, to generate community support or information, we're very happy to do that,'" he said.
Longo also said he read the Grahams' words aloud to the search team on Saturday.
"They went out here yesterday with a clearer understanding of the importance of finding Hannah Graham," he told reporters at a morning news briefing.
He asked area property owners to check their land.
"If you have a well on your property, search that well. If you have an abandoned structure, search that structure," he said.
Longo said all-terrain vehicles, aircraft and mounted officers are searching rural Albemarle County, parts of which are hilly or mountainous.
"Lots of these areas are very difficult to get to," he said.
Sharon Johnson, a canine handler and president of the nonprofit search organization Dogs East, has been assisting the search with a black German Shepherd named Gyro. Gyro is trained to detect the scent of any living human or body.
Asked about the challenges the searchers face, she noted the duration of the search and difficult brush that the dogs are trained to break through: "The dogs and the handlers are getting, just, tired."
But she added, "As long as we're needed, we'll be here."