At vigil, Vt. town prays and sings for missing grandmother and puzzles over her abduction

Nearly two weeks after a 78-year-old grandmother vanished, her disappearance remains a disturbing whodunit in her small town, where about 150 people turned out for a candlelight vigil Thursday.

Pat O'Hagan missed a rug-hooking session she'd planned to attend Sept. 11 and is believed to have been abducted.

"It's been four words haunting my mind: What happened to Pat?" said vigil organizer Eleanor Dole, 61.

O'Hagan, originally from Chelmsford, Mass., is a grandmother of nine who kayaked and camped when she wasn't volunteering with the historical society, the town's annual chicken dinner and the food bank.

The disappearance of the 5-foot tall, white-haired widow has baffled Sheffield, a town of about 700 people in Vermont's verdant northeastern corner that has no stores or stoplights.

The hunt for her or for clues to her disappearance has included ground and air searches of barns, fields, a quarry and woods, with volunteers joining with police detectives, firefighters and all-terrain vehicle clubs.

Such an investigation can be quite lengthy, said criminal justice expert Robin Adler, a professor of justice studies and sociology at Norwich University, in Northfield.

"I'm sure her house has been thoroughly searched and fibers picked up for testing, and that takes time," said Adler, who isn't involved in the investigation. "It doesn't take 20 minutes like on TV. That's the sort of stuff they're looking for."

Rewards totaling $20,000 are being offered for information in O'Hagan's case. Her family, which has set up a website to help with the investigation, planned to be on hand at Sheffield's town hall for Thursday's vigil. It was organized by a resident of the rural village, an hour's drive northeast of Montpelier.

Police appealed for help this week from anyone who attended Sheffield Field Day, an annual Labor Day event in the village and has photographs or video that might show O'Hagan, who worked it as a volunteer.

"I don't know if somebody might've tracked her at the field day, I don't know if it was just a random stop at her house," said retired postal worker Dick Bartlett, 66, a longtime friend. "It's just unbelievable, unbelievable that something could happen in somebody's own home."

Ground searches have been called off barring any new leads, said Sgt. Tara Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Vermont State Police, which has been joined in the investigation by FBI agents. But the investigation remains "aggressive and active," she said.

"We're following up on a ton of information and interviews," she said. "When you talk to one person, that leads to one or two more people, and we're following all those leads."

On Thursday night, townspeople stood candles in hand as writer Galway Kinnell read W.B. Yeats' poem "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," speakers remembered O'Hagan and a teenage flutist played "Amazing Grace," leading the crowd — which included O'Hagan's five adult children — in a somber, half-whispered singalong.

"We're committed to find our mom," said son Matt O'Hagan, fighting back tears as he stood by a wooden staircase adorned with yellow ribbons, addressing the crowd. "We know she's out there. Somebody came in, did something they shouldn't have done. But we know somebody has some information. Please, talk to your friends."

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Online:

Family's website: http://www.findpatohagan.com