RUTLAND — Vermont State Police said Friday they are scaling back their efforts to locate a girl who reportedly vanished Thursday afternoon in Center Rutland.
Twenty-four hours after the start of a massive operation involving 70 ground searchers plus air support, Vermont State Police Capt. Donald Patch said at 6 p.m. Friday that they had not found any trace of the girl who reportedly had a brief encounter with a motorist before running into the woods on the west edge of West Proctor Road near Route 4A.
“Because of the amount of area the searchers covered today, compared with the statistical models for someone that age and how far they would have traveled since the time of the missing person report, we believe the chance of success for further searches in that area is small,” Patch said in an interview at the Center Rutland fire station.
He said searchers — including up to 70 police, firefighters from several towns, state Fish and Wildlife officials and a Vermont National Guard helicopter, combed a 2½-mile radius centered on the spot where the girl reportedly went into the woods.
The maximum distance that could be covered by a 6-year-old — the estimated age of the girl — in search models was no more than two miles in a 24-hour span, Patch said.
But the search for the girl isn’t ending, and neither is an investigation conducted by state police detectives. They continue to look for clues related to the only evidence in the case: the account of a 911 caller who told police she stopped to speak with the girl.
During that brief exchange, the girl reportedly told the woman she was hurt. Police said the motorist — whose identity they have not released — saw evidence the girl was injured.
Police also said Friday night that someone else may have seen the girl — a man apparently stopped on the side of Route 4A eating dinner in a car with Oregon plates.
The man was described as being in his late 20s to early 30s with shoulder-length dreadlocks. He was driving a white truck with a white cap.
Police said none of the residents interviewed in the area knew the man.
No trace of the girl, who reportedly identified herself as “Angel” or “Angela,” has been found, police said. Neighbors on the road have told police they have no knowledge of a girl with that name, or of a girl matching the description: shoulder-length dark brown hair and missing a left front tooth.
The girl was reportedly wearing a red skirt, white T-shirt, white flip-flops and a mood ring.
Police said they checked with local school resource officers, law enforcement agencies throughout the Northeast and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but found no matches for the girl.
No one in the area has reported a missing child, police said.
Despite the lack of a missing-person complaint, Patch said police decided the motorist’s account of her encounter with the girl was sufficient to organize a large-scale search.
“We acted on the side of caution,” he said. “A lot of things play into the way it goes, but when we have a report of a missing child we take it seriously.”
State police Capt. David Covell, who oversaw search operations for most of Friday, added: “Our department takes all reports of endangered juveniles seriously and have taken significant steps in locating this potential victim. We encourage anyone in the community who may have information about this case to please come forward to law enforcement.”
While the intensive search has ended in the woods, ridges and lowlands that make up the area, Patch said police will continue patrolling the area in vehicles and the investigation by detectives will continue.
“It’s more investigative than ground-pounding now,” he said. “Investigators will be working throughout the weekend following up on leads and taking tips.”
Along with the search teams, neighbors in the area pitched in to help find the girl.
West Proctor resident Bill Rounds said he offered his all-terrain vehicles to searchers and that he checked every shed, garage and barn on his property to make sure the girl wasn’t hiding or trapped inside.
“It’s scary to think about it, even,” he said. “The neighbors here have all been doing the same thing, checking their outbuildings up and down the road.”
Anyone with information about the missing girl or the man who may have witnessed the encounter is asked to call state police at 773-9101.
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