The search for missing 21/2-year-old Caleigh Ann Harrison resumed Friday, with Massachusetts State Police using backhoes and police dogs to excavate land near where the Gloucester toddler disappeared.
But searchers came up just as they had in the week after the little girl vanished April 19 — empty-handed.
Twelve troopers searched the area south of Saratoga Point with two backhoes borrowed from Rockport's Department of Public Works and two state police dogs, digging for a half hour in the area where a resident's dog had reacted sharply Thursday afternoon.
"All results were negative," State Police spokesman David Procopio said after the renewed search was called off around 4 p.m. The search had been called after the Thursday response by the beach walker's dog, which was seen as a potential new lead in finding Caleigh's whereabouts.
Procopio said police would continue investigating, but the search would only resume in earnest if new information came to light. State police have refused to release any reports or witness statements regarding existing evidence, citing the fact that the investigation is ongoing.
Caleigh was last seen at the space where Long Beach meets Cape Hedge Beach at noon April 19. She had come to the beach with her mother, Allison Hammond, her 4-year-old sister Elizabeth, and the family dog, Lucas. Hammond has told police she went to fetch a ball that went over a nearby wall, and when she returned, only Elizabeth was there.
Following Caleigh's disappearance, officers of the State Police, Rockport Police, Environmental Police and the Coast Guard scoured the area searching for the little girl, calling off a search of the waters off Long Beach on April 26.
Caleigh's family members, meanwhile, have said they believe there is a chance that Caleigh was abducted, though police have said there is no evidence that she was taken. Caleigh's father, Anthony Harrison, told CNN Headline News' "The Nancy Grace Show" on Wednesday night that Elizabeth has talked of a "man on the beach" who had taken Caleigh.
Procopio said investigators have uncovered no evidence that such a man took Caleigh, saying that police have interviewed everyone on the beach at the time of the disappearance, and no one matching Elizabeth's description could be found. Elizabeth was also interviewed by police shortly after Caleigh disappeared, then again on April 28 by an investigator with a background in child psychology.
At the scene Friday, Procopio said state police were aware of the family's report of Elizabeth's claims before they were made to the media.
"We have a good sense of who was and wasn't on the beach at time," said Procopio. While emphasizing authorities have still not ruled out foul play, officials never issued an Amber alert in the hours after Caleigh's disappearance, with Procopio noting that step is taken only in a case where there is evidence an abduction has taken place.
Members of the Harrison family were on the beach near where police were searching Friday. The search began at 3:30 p.m., when the tide was low, and was called off at 4 p.m.
"It was evident just how relentless the tide is when it came rushing in," said Procopio.
Procopio said that, between the helicopters, the land search and the dive teams, police had searched over five square miles in the first week after Caleigh vanished, but that he would not be surprised if Caleigh were never found.
"We're also talking about the Atlantic Ocean," Procopio said. "It's a big ocean."
Over the course of the search, teams of divers searched the rocks and the water. Police last week also used a sidescan sonar device to search the ocean floor, while, in the days after Caleigh's disappearance, police dogs searched the land and cottages near where the toddler was last seen.
With all of the effort that went into the search, many have found it odd that no hint of the toddler has been found, not a piece of clothing or a shoe. Procopio, however, said Friday that divers have told him the evidence may not surface for a long time.
"If there was evidence in the water, it could be a very long time before it turns up," said Procopio.