By Stephanie Bergman
ROCKPORT — The sea search for 2-year-old Caleigh Harrison has officially ended, and will only resume if new evidence would draw searchers back to the water, police said Thursday.
State Police said that divers had covered more than five miles of water off the shore of Long Beach, where the toddler disappeared shortly after noon on Thursday, April 19.
Rockport Police Chief John "Tom" McCarthy emphasized that ending the sea search does not mean ending the investigation into Caleigh's disappearance. State police and Rockport police will continue looking into what Rockport McCarthy called "any legitimate leads," he said.
"We're working hand in hand with the state police on this," said McCarthy.
The halting of the water search came exactly a week after the little girl disappeared from the beach, where she had been playing with her 4-year-old sister, Elizabeth, and her mother, Allison Hammond of Gloucester. The end of the active water search — by dive teams and state police boats using Sonar equipment — also came a day after members of the Harrison family told a press conference outside their home that they're clinging to the belief that Caleigh may have been abducted, acknowledging that is also the chief scenario that gives them any hope for the girl ever coming home.
State police have emphasized throughout the week that, while the search for Caleigh has focused on the waters off Long Beach, the adjacent Cape Hedge Beach, and Milk Island just off the coastline, they have also not ruled out foul play. State Police spokesman David Procopio emphasized, however, that there is also no evidence of any abduction, and police never issued an Amber alert in the hours after Caleigh's disappearance.
On Thursday, police removed the "crime scene" tape that had blocked off access to the area of the beach from which Caleigh disappeared; Procopio had noted earlier, that the tape had only signified the area as a "potential crime scene," not a confirmed one.
According to reports, Caleigh was playing on the beach where Long Beach meets Cape Hedge Beach at noon on Thursday, April 19, with her mother and older sister. Hammond told police she went to fetch a wayward ball that had gone beyond a nearby cement wall; when she returned, Caleigh was gone.
The water in that area is subject to strong currents, and there is often a riptide, especially near high tide, which was just turning when Caleigh vanished.
Water also flows just past where Caleigh was playing into a salt marsh, and the beach near that section of water drops quickly. The National Weather Service had also issued dangerous surf warnings the day that the little girl disappeared.
"We terminate the search with deep sadness for Caleigh and her family," Procopio said Thursday. "Our mission throughout was singular: to bring Caleigh home to the people who love her,"
Caleigh's family has been handing out flyers with her picture on them, hoping that someone may have seen the little girl on land — hoping that Caleigh is alive and can be returned to them.
David Harrison Jr., brother of Caleigh's father, Anthony, acknowledged that the family doesn't have any hard evidence of any abduction — just hoe they will see Caleigh again.
"We don't have footprints, we don't have clothing, we don't have witnesses. We have a 4-year-old playing in the sand," he said referring to Elizabeth, the person closest to the girl the last time she was seen alive.
Police interviewed Elizabeth at the beach on the afternoon of the incident, but reports indicated that the little girl said she did not know or could not remember what happened. Last Saturday, a child psychology expert also interviewed Elizabeth as part of the investigation, but authorities have not released the outcome of that interview, and have not told the family what Elizabeth may have said, family members say.
The Harrisons and the Hammonds have said they are thankful for the search efforts made by police.
The Cape Ann community has been deeply affected by the disappearance of Caleigh.
After Thursday's announcement of the suspension of the search, when the beach was reopened, people walked slowly along Long Beach, stopping to stare at the pink balloons tied to a footbridge next to where Caleigh was last seen.
A woman walking slowly over the bridge Thursday stopped to touch the balloon strings. Many on the beach did not wish to speak to the press, but all said they felt for Caleigh's family and were mourning her loss.
A man who would not give his name but described himself as a friend of Caleigh's mother said he had come to the beach to remember the toddler.
"She brought smiles to so many faces, especially her own," he said.
Wearing the pink ribbon with a hand cutout pinned to the middle that family members had worn during Wednesday's press conference, the man looked out to the water, stared at the beach where Caleigh had last played, and left to pick his own son up from school.
Stephanie Bergman can contacted at 978-283-7000 x3451 or email@example.com