KOTZEBUE, Alaska (KTUU) — The search for a missing 10-year-old girl from Kotzebue was widened Thursday, with searchers turning toward Kotzebue Sound and surrounding waterways.
Alaska State Troopers say search efforts for Ashley Johnson-Barr are shifting more toward investigation and analysis, including of a cellphone — the only evidence that's been found so far.
Jonathon Taylor with the Department of Public Safety says that, despite the shift, there are no plans to scale down the number of law enforcement officers involved in the search.
Currently, there are 17 FBI special agents, 10 Alaska State Troopers and three dog teams working with the Kotzebue Police Department, under the leadership of AST. Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are also assisting efforts.
A bloodhound named Abby was brought in and could be seen searching around Kotzebue on Thursday, including the area close to Rainbow Park, the last spot that witnesses report seeing Barr-Johnson last Thursday.
A search and rescue dog named Taku was working with her handlers in the afternoon outside of town on the tundra. She ran through thick brush on shorelines and swam through ponds, directed by her handlers on shore.
The teams on the ground were assisted by a crew flying in a helicopter owned and operated by the Northwest Arctic Borough that spent the day taking aerial photos for investigators. Two United States Coast Guard helicopters also performed two flights.
In the southern end of town, three divers searched underwater near the Ralph Wien Memorial Airport.
Meanwhile, local volunteers were partnered with FBI special agents Thursday morning to knock on doors around town and follow up on leads.
Taylor says in the coming days there will be a shift more to analysis. An Anchorage-based forensics team is currently examining Barr-Johnson's cell phone that was recovered last Thursday evening.
The Northwest Arctic Borough building — the headquarters of the search — was slightly quieter Thursday after being packed to the brim for days with volunteers.
Taylor reports that investigators have largely reached the end of what volunteers can safely do and that professionals will now search more challenging terrain.
Wayne Booth-Johnson, Ashley's uncle, says the search won't stop until Ashley is found, and that people from surrounding villages have come to help because "we're one big family."
Walter "Scotty" Barr, Ashley's father, says that if the worst was to happen, the family wants Ashley's body brought home.
"It will bring peace and relief and allow the healing to begin," he said.