Hundreds of volunteers and rescue workers combed the water and woods near an Elk River campground Saturday, searching for a missing 2-year-old girl police fear may have tumbled into the river.
More than 300 area residents had gathered at the Gateway Church on Hwy. 10 by noon Saturday, and 260 of them were dispatched by officers to sweep through fields and dense forests looking for Daisy Jo Holland.
The toddler disappeared about 8 p.m. Friday from the Wapiti Park Campground, where her mother and two other adults had pitched tents and she was playing with two other children.
As volunteers walked the land, boats with divers were on the Elk River, which flows by the Wapiti Park Campground. Officials said Saturday morning that dogs had followed Daisy’s scent to the river’s edge, where the swift water gets deep fast and visibility extends only about a foot below the surface.
By midafternoon, police had called off the volunteer searchers, saying they were convinced that an area up to 2 miles around the campground had been thoroughly examined. Officers from several law enforcement agencies continued the hunt and expanded the water search downstream to Lake Orono. A Minnesota State Patrol helicopter equipped with thermal imaging equipment to locate a person through body heat buzzed overhead all day.
“We believe she wandered off, and now it’s just a matter of trying to, hopefully, find her alive if possible, or just find her period, find that little girl,” said Elk River Police Sgt. Darren McKernan.
As volunteers wearing fluorescent lime-colored vests walked 5 to 10 feet apart, they looked anywhere that a tiny girl could hide or seek refuge. A few brought four-wheelers to help expand the search, and the Sherburne County Horse Patrol joined the efforts.
Daisy Jo is described as being 2 feet tall and weighing 30 pounds, with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue eyes. She was last seen wearing black pants and a “Hello Kitty” pink shirt.
Late Saturday morning, the girl’s mother, two other young children, and an Elk River man and a second woman in their group left the campground on the west edge of Elk River and went to the Gateway Church. The family gathered in a circle with spiritual leaders of the Christian church and prayed.
Bradley Rolfe, the Elk River police chief, told reporters that the girl’s parents were distraught. While no lead is being discounted at this time, the chief said, there is nothing to suggest that the girl could have been abducted.
Speaking as dark clouds rolled in late in the afternoon, Rolfe said it would be dangerous to let searchers continue into the night. Volunteers can check the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Facebook page for news on whether another search involving volunteers will be conducted Sunday.
Some didn’t want to stop looking on Saturday.
“I was hoping they would have kept us searching longer,” said Rebecca Valenzuela, 26, of Elk River, adding that her team kept crossing paths with other teams because so many people were searching.
As with recent searches for three missing Twin Cities women, including Mandy Matula of Eden Prairie, who remains the focus of other searches this weekend, the use of social media quickly galvanized many strangers.
Kristin Melchior, 38, of Elk River, said she’d been looking at a website for garage sales when she saw a posting about the missing child.
Within hours, she and her husband, David Melchior, 50, were walking the banks of the Elk River, where they saw sheriffs’ water patrol boats along with volunteers in boats and canoes.
“I would want people to come out if it was my daughter,” Kristin Melchior said.
“People were checking everything on properties, around outbuildings,” she said. “We were looking under canoes, under boats, in window wells, anything that a little 2-year-old could crawl into.”