By Stephanie Bergman
The father of missing Gloucester 2 1/2-year-old Caleigh Anne Harrison told a CNN Headline News television audience that, while Massachusetts State Police maintain there is no evidence indicating the toddler was abducted, Caleigh's 4-year-old sister Elizabeth has talked of seeing "a man on the beach" who may have taken her sister.
"She mentions a man," Anthony Harrison told the "Nancy Grace Show" in an interview recorded early Wednesday, then broadcast that night. "It's a little bit scattered because she is 4 years old, but she did, after a while, mention a man on the beach that took her sister," Harrison said.
Previously, members of the Harrison family said they believed Caleigh may have been abducted largely because the extensive search of the water near where she disappeared had turned up nothing. State police have emphasized since her disappearance that they could not rule out foul play, but they also never issued an Amber Alert because there was no evidence of an abduction.
State Police spokesman David Procopio reiterated Thursday morning that, while abduction cannot be 100 percent ruled out, there is no evidence to support that theory.
"We thoroughly investigated the potential for abduction," Procopio said in an email to the Times. "As we told reporters when we suspended the water search, we found no evidence to support the abduction theory. That does not mean that we can say with 100 percent certainty that foul play did not occur, only that we have found no evidence of it — including no evidence of a mysterious man on the beach."
Rockport police did respond to investigate Thursday what they said was a lead on Long Beach, but quickly cleared the scene.
State police on Thursday also released a "Missing Child" poster bearing Caleigh's picture and other information, while reiterating that there has been no evidence of abduction in this case.
"The thoughts of the Massachusetts State Police and the Rockport Police Department remain with Caleigh's family, and we remain dedicated to finding answers about what happened to their dear little girl," Procopio said.
Elizabeth Harrison was interviewed by police multiple times, including shortly after Caleigh's disappearance and then two days later, when she was interviewed Saturday, April 21, by an investigator with child psychology training. Family members had said previously that police had not shared with them what Elizabeth may have told the child psychologist; earlier reports had indicated that Elizabeth had told investigators she did not know what happened, or could not remember.
Caleigh Harrison disappeared from Long Beach shortly after noon Thursday, April 19, after she, Elizabeth, and their mother Allison Hammond had gone there with the family dog, Lucas. At some point, with the two girls playing on the beach, Hammond left for an estimated 1 to 2 minutes to retrieve a ball that had gone over a nearby wall; when she turned back, Caleigh was gone.
The area where Caleigh was last seen, which is the narrow strip of beach that joins Long and Cape Hedge beaches, is known to have a riptide. The National Weather Service had issued a severe seas warning for the area on April 19.
Members of the Harrison family had previously said they thought there was a chance Caleigh might have been abducted, making fliers with recent pictures of her on them and asking anyone with information to come forward to "help Caleigh come home." But Anthony Harrison's comments mark the first reference to any "man on the beach" at the time Caleigh vanished.
Some have speculated that the family's focus on the abduction possibility could have convinced Elizabeth that she saw a man on the beach, even if she did not.
"The danger (with asking leading questions) is seeding a thought that might not be accurate," said Don Sugai, a child psychologist who works for the Lahey Clinic. If a question is asked in a certain way, it could convince the child that a piece of information, true or not, is true, Sugai said.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-238-7000 x3451, or email@example.com.