GLOUCESTER — Search teams turned up seal bones, bird skeletons and other debris, but no new evidence in the case of missing toddler Caleigh Harrison. In a renewed search for evidence, ignited after pink capri pants matching the description of those worn by Caleigh on the day of her disappearance were found last Friday on Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach, Caleigh’s parents, along with about 30 volunteers, five canine search teams, a former state forensic anthropologist, and a former FBI agent all walked area beaches from 11 a.m. to about 4 p.m., looking for clues.
”We’re looking for any kind of information we can find,” said Allison Hammond, Caleigh’s mother.
Mission for the Missing, a Boston-based nonprofit that helps locate missing persons, organized the volunteers to search a span of beaches including Good Harbor, Long Beach, Cape Hedge Beach, Pebble Beach and area inlets and marshes.
Mission for the Missing representatives said Tuesday’s was the largest search effort for Caleigh since those that followed her disappearance last April 19th, when the then 2-year, 9-month-old girl vanished from Rockport’s Long Beach while on an outing with her mother and her then-4-year-old sister Elizabeth.
At different times, the parents and other family members suggested Caleigh had been abducted, though police never found any evidence of that. Both Hammond and Anthony Harrison indicated they see the discovery of the pants as a hope for potential closure — and said they are now “accepting” that the discovery shows that Caleigh may have been lost to the sea.
”You don’t want to hope your daughter went in the water and drowned ... But at the same time it is what it is ... You do want closure,” Hammond told reporters.
Rockport Police Chief John “Tom” McCarthy has said the tattered shreds of pink capri pants — just seams, buttons, pockets and waistband still intact — were seen as “very, very similar” to those that the Gloucester toddler was wearing at the time of her disappearance, though Hammond, who has viewed the evidence, has been unable to say “with certainty” whether the pants were her daughter’s, McCarthy has said.
Wednesday morning, Hammond said she felt prepared to consider the pants as Caleigh’s for the sake of the search.
“I’m accepting that they are hers,” Hammond said. “I couldn’t identify with absolute certainty that they are. There’s just not enough left of them.”
Police will soon send the pants to a lab for DNA analysis. Caleigh’s father Anthony Harrison, estranged from Caleigh’s mother, stood talking with Hammond as television news crews piled into the parking lot one-by-one Wednesday.
Harrison told reporters though he had never seen the new pants, the pair found were consistent with the original description of Caleigh’s outfit.
“They’re the right size, they’re the right color, they’re the right brand. That’s the way I feel, that those are her pants,” Harrison said. “Something’s finally come to light and we’re hoping we can finally find some answers.”
Harrison said if no other evidence arises, the pants might be enough to help him find closure, he thinks. He added, a hope that Caleigh could be alive somewhere remains within him, but he continues searching for closure.
“The sea was very strong that day, and she’s so little, she probably fell in ... She could have been gone in seconds,” Harrison said.
The ocean waters foamed white again Wednesday, whirring around the pilings of the Long Beach footbridge, which was still marked with a light pink bow in tribute to Caleigh, the bow’s ribbon flapping in the light breeze.
A seagull clamped its beak around a shell and stepped backward, pulling the mollusk from a vast pile of debris and muck swept in by recent storms to the northern corner of Long Beach where the beach nearly meets Cape Hedge Beach.
The post storm conditions had created an ideal search scenerio, according to Mission for the Missing local organizer Maureen Flatley.
“If there were going to be a perfect time for a search like this, it would be now,” Flatley said Wednesday morning.
As Wednesday morning turned to afternoon, a team of three volunteers crouched among rocks at the northern end of Long beach, sifting through clumps of seaweed. A cadaver search dog, outfitted in an orange vest trotted in a zig zagging line among the piles of seaweed, dripping salty water from its black fur. The furry worker halted, sniffed at something on the sand and looked to his keeper.
Forensic anthropologist Ann Marie Mires and Rockport Patrolman Daniel J. Mahoney received a radio call and made their way out to the beach’s northern point. The group bent over the dog-identified spot, then a gloved hand reached in and bagged the sniffed-out item.
Back at the search home base on Good Harbor Beach, however, Alan Tate, founder of Mission for the Missing, conceded the dog recovered only bones from a seal skeleton.
Tate stood with other volunteers, eating lunch after a visit from Mayor Carolyn Kirk, in front of Mission for the Missing’s truck.
Stamped on the vehicle was a Mission for the Missing insignia, with the group’s motto:
”Never, Never, Never Give Up,” it read.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.