A group that promotes the awareness of missing children’s cases will be working with law enforcement officials and others in a renewed search for Caleigh Harrison today — five days after a tattered pair of pink children’s pants similar to the ones the 21/2-year-old toddler wore on the day of her disappearance was found on Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach.
Maureen Flatley of Essex, a volunteer with Mission for the Missing, a Boston-based nonprofit, is organizing the search with law enforcement officials, dog teams, and a state forensic anthropologist. The plan, Flatley said, is to conduct a land search in the area of the beach today, beginning at 10:30 a.m. — a time purposefully set to coincide with the 10:45 high tide.
“The way we plan to work it is to follow the tide out,” Flatley told the Times Tuesday. “So we’ll start at the highest point and work our way out. We’ll certainly be looking for any fragments of anything that was connected to her, whether clothing or remains.”
At least six teams, with one search dog and three people per team will span out along the beach, Flatley said, the dogs zeroing in on possibly related scents and the volunteers combing the areas where the dogs pause.
The human searchers are professionally trained and voluntarily conduct searches with the dogs through Mission for the Missing.
Because the search is based on following the dogs’ intuition, Mission for the Missing will deploy only volunteers that are trained and part of the group. And Flatley said the law enforcement officials on hand, including a state forensic anthropologist and Rockport Police Officer Daniel Mahoney, will help ensure the search is properly conducted.
“At least in this first part, we want to keep it kind of clear of people who aren’t trained,” Flatley said. “We want to make sure that everything is cataloged appropriately, handled appropriately and conserved appropriately.”
The renewed search follows the discovery of the shredded pair of pink pants, said by Rockport Police Chief John “Tom” McCarthy to be “very, very similar” to those worn by Caleigh on April 19, when she disappeared while on an outing with her mother, Allison Hammond, and then-4-year-old sister Elizabeth, from Rockport’s Long Beach. The pants were found tangled in some lobster gear by a man walking along the shore last Friday.
McCarthy told the Times on Monday that Caleigh’s mother was unable to say “with certainty” that the pants are Caleigh’s. Police officials will send the pants to a lab to undergo DNA testing.
Wednesday’s land search teams, which will include members of the Harrison family, Flatley said, will meet at 10:30 a.m. for a briefing, and with the dog teams will deploy about 11 a.m., according to Flatley, who said she was unsure if members of the Hammond family will attend.
Rockport police have received many items of clothing and reports of infant clothing found on beaches since Caleigh’s disappearance, according to officers. Officer Mahoney said a shoe that was found on Gap Cove Beach off Marion Way Tuesday afternoon and brought into the police station was not in fact evidence, since Caleigh was barefoot at the time of her disappearance.
Though Rockport officer Mahoney said “you can’t make any direct connections” between Caleigh’s disappearance and the pants having been caught on an unmarked piece of lobster trap, Mission for the Missing hopes to continue their search past today with a water-based effort as well.
”We’re hoping to find something to give these families some peace of mind and closure,” Flatley said. “This is going to be probably part of a longer process but we just felt like we needed to start somewhere.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.