KOTZEBUE, Alaska (KTUU) - Search and rescue teams are continuing their exhaustive search of Kotzebue and the surrounding area for a 10-year-old girl missing since Thursday.
Searchers gather at the Northwest Arctic Borough offices in Kotzebue. (KTUU)
Dozens of volunteers are teaming up with 15 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in a search led by the Alaska State Troopers.
Volunteers are joining search and rescue teams with dogs to look for Ashley Johnson-Barr, who vanished after last being seen near Rainbow Park around 6:00 p.m. Thursday.
Crews are going block by block, looking into abandoned buildings and any spot local kids are known to hide. So far, officials say only a cell phone has been discovered around a mile in the opposite direction from the girl’s usual route home.
Wayne Booth-Johnson, Ashley’s uncle, said he traveled down from Kiana to help with the search. He said it is unlike her to go missing or to hide.
Booth-Johnson said that volunteers are put into small search and rescue crews to look at a small two or three block area before coming back to the borough building to debrief.
Crews use the My Tracks app to show team leaders exactly where they’ve been. Booth-Johnson said the family wants to thank the volunteers, and particularly the dozens of strangers, who have come out to help with the search.
When asked what he would say if a person knew where she was, Booth-Johnson said, “please bring her home.”
In a press-conference update, State Troopers said dozens of law enforcement officials and volunteers were involved in the search. That includes 10 Alaska State Troopers, 15 FBI special agents from Alaska and the Lower 48, including some that specialize in missing juveniles, the Kotzebue Police, a Village Public Safety Officer, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Northwest Arctic Borough, and 40-50 members of search and rescue groups from the area and across the state. Two search dogs joined in the effort Tuesday.
Lt. David Hanson said search crews are looking for Barr-Johnson in areas that investigative leads have led law enforcement. Hanson said the number of volunteer searchers in the case is incredible. "To have the number of volunteers we've had, giving up their own time for an effort like this has been outstanding, which leaves law enforcement to sortof do the investigative end, following up on leads and information that people might have to help us point the searchers in the right direction," Hanson said.
Hanson said the case is still being treated as a search and rescue mission, and not a recovery. Even with cold weather conditions, he said it's still relatively mild compared to what it could be. "Now that we're five days into the search, we're hoping that we can resolve this quickly," Hanson said.