Archive for Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Father makes emotional plea for missing 9-year-old’s return

March 1, 2005

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— The father of a missing 9-year-old girl pleaded again for her safe return Monday -- the fifth and final day of a full-scale search for Jessica Marie Lunsford.

"Just drop her off. I'll come get her," said Mark Lunsford, repeatedly choking back tears. "I know whoever has got Jessie, they have to have a heart."

Lunsford said he remains convinced his daughter, who was last seen Wednesday night, did not leave home voluntarily, though authorities have uncovered no evidence she was abducted. "She just didn't go with strangers," Lunsford said.

He also expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support: "It's been overwhelming, the people that have shown up," he said. "It makes me feel real good to know everyone's trying to help me out."

Before his emotional appeal, Lunsford placed a purple sign in his yard with the words "Bring Jessica Home" written over the image of a yellow ribbon.

For five straight days, police were joined by hundreds of volunteers who braved fog, torrential rain and a tornado watch to scour thick forests and marshlands in a five-mile circle around the girl's house.

But late Monday afternoon, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy told reporters he had suspended the full-scale search, expressing frustration it uncovered little evidence.

The sheriff said the girl's disappearance is not a confirmed abduction, and he hasn't ruled anything out. Deputies were even taking tips from psychics.

"We're all trying to find that little piece to the puzzle," said Dawsy, who said 20 experts were arriving from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help.

Earlier Monday, about 160 volunteer searchers showed signs of frustration.

Ginger Washburn, a preschool owner who skipped work in nearby Lecanto to join Monday's search, said she was surprised and frustrated no one has found anything. "We are all a little scared. It's taking so long."

Jessica's grandmother tucked her into bed Wednesday night; her father discovered she was missing early Thursday.

Dawsy has said a door at the home she shared with her father and his parents was unlocked and one of Jessie's dolls was gone.

Jessica's mother, Angela Bryant, lives in Ohio and came to Florida over the weekend.

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