By Stephanie Bergman and Steven Fletcher
ROCKPORT — Massachusetts State Police and the U.S. Coast Guard were continuing to carry out a search Thursday night and were poised to renew it this morning for the nearly 3-year-old Gloucester girl who disappeared from a corner of Long Beach while playing with her sister and her mother.
Caleigh Ann Harrison was last seen on Long Beach at noon Thursday. According to police and family members, Caleigh was at Long Beach with her mother, Allison Hammond, and her older sister, Elizabeth, 4, when she disappeared.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said at a briefing Thursday evening that Caleigh was playing near a footbridge on the beach when her mother turned away to fetch a wayward ball that had gone over a retaining wall and into some tall grass. When Hammond turned back, Caleigh, age 2 years and 9 months old, was gone.
Rockport police quickly began to search, calling in help from Gloucester Police, Rockport Fire Department, the Coast Guard, Environmental Police and the State Police. An ambulance on standby sat near a fire truck equipped with water rescue gear, all the items unused.
State police took over the investigation at 3:30 p.m., as two helicopters circled the beach, divers looked in the water and two police dogs were used to try to find any traces of Caleigh in nearby cottages and garages.
None of the searchers, however, had found anything as of press time Thursday night.
"We have seen no trace of Caleigh Harrison yet," said Procopio.
State police, he said, have not ruled out foul play.
The Coast Guard had a 47-foot Motor Life Boat crew, a 49-foot rescue boat crew, a MH-60 Rescue helicopter and the cutter Flying Fish all scouring the area for the little girl, who was last seen wearing a light pink shirt and dark pink pants.
Caleigh lives on Washington Street in Gloucester with her mother and sister. She has light brown hair, is shorter than 3 feet tall and weighs between 27 and 35 pounds, authorities said.
As the afternoon wore on, the temperature began to drop from a high of 70 degrees and the wind began to pick up. The water, which was estimated to be as cold as 47 degrees, became choppy.
Procopio said the search pulled back at 7 p.m., essentially leaving only the Coast Guard cutter Flying Fish, based in Boston, to search overnight. He said the officers and dive teams would resume the search at 8 this morning.
The National Weather Service issued a warning of severe seas for Thursday and Friday. Procopio said the dive teams were getting pounded in the surf Thursday as they searched for the missing girl.
The section of Long Beach where Caleigh disappeared — the area near the footbridge where Long Beach meets Cape Hedge Beach — is known for its strong tides. The tide was just past its high point and was beginning to go out when Caleigh disappeared, Procopio said.
Searchers went as far as the other end of the beach, following the flow of the ocean. Police were also combing the salt marshes nearby.
Relatives, including Caleigh's uncle and grandmother, arrived on the beach to help look for her. Hammond herself stayed with the state police throughout the afternoon.
Elizabeth led police to where she had last seen her sister, going over every detail with the officers.
Meanwhile, firefighters, other rescuers and news crews stood by the beach, craning to see any possible development. At one point, a police officer walked toward the ambulance with a little girl in a pink shirt, and excitement picked up — until it became clear the girl was Elizabeth, not Caleigh.
Stephanie Bergman can contacted at 978-283-7000 x3451 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3455 or email@example.com. Follow him @gdtnews on Twitter.
CALEIGH ANN HARRISON
Age: 2 years, 9 months
Missing: Since noon, Thursday, April 19
Missing From: Long Beach, Rockport
Hair: Light brown
Height: Just under 3 feet
Weight: 27 to 35 pounds
Last seen wearing: Light pink T-shirt and dark pink Capri pants.
Circumstances: Caleigh went missing as she, her mother and her sister were playing ball near the footbridge between Long and Cape Hedge beaches.