Crime

Massive resources, no luck in search for Adre'anna Jackson

Adre'anna Jackson officially became a missing person at 4:19 p.m. Dec. 2 when her mother called 911 to report the girl hadn't come home from school.

Yvette Gervais told a dispatcher she hadn't seen Adre'anna since 7:45 a.m., when she and the girl's father, Jon Federici, sent their 10-year-old daughter off to Tillicum Elementary School not knowing it was closed for the day because of snow.

"I made a mistake 'cause I didn't figure out whether the schools were closed or not," a crying Gervais told the 911 dispatcher.

It was almost two hours since the school's normal 2:30 p.m. dismissal time. Gervais and Federici had contacted many of their daughter's friends and gone around the neighborhood looking for her before calling police.

The dispatcher quizzed Gervais on Adre'anna's physical description and the clothes she was wearing. Gervais couldn't give her daughter's height and was unclear about the color of pants she was wearing when she left for school.

"I'm so upset I can't remember," Gervais said. "She's pretty tall."

The dispatcher then asked a more ominous question: "Is there any large bodies of water near your residence?"

"Yes, ma'am," Gervais replied. "American Lake."

THE FIRST HOUR

The search begins

Lakewood police were actively searching for Adre'anna 14 minutes after her mother called 911, according to information provided by the department.

Jeff Alwine, the shift sergeant that day and an experienced search-and-rescue coordinator, diverted all five patrol officers on duty at that time to Tillicum. The next shift was called in early to cover emergency calls in the rest of the city.

The patrol officers assigned to the search twice combed through Adre'anna's home to make sure she wasn't hiding there. Later they obtained a search warrant in case they needed to seize evidence from the house. They also drove through the neighborhood, asking residents if they'd seen the little girl.

Within 30 minutes of Gervais' call, Alwine was on the phone to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, requesting assistance from that department's search-and-rescue experts.

Minutes later, Lakewood community policing officers arrived and began identifying and contacting the 51 sex offenders in the area.

"We are comfortable that we have good information on every sex offender," Chief Larry Saunders would say later.

No Amber Alert was issued. The national program's guidelines require that police agencies confirm a child was abducted before activating the alert system. There was no information Adre'anna was abducted Dec. 2.

There still isn't.

4:19 to 11 P.M.

'At high risk'

Police knew Adre'anna likely was in trouble.

Time is the enemy of those searching for missing children, and 8 1/2 hours had elapsed between the last confirmed sighting of Adre'anna and the time her mother called 911. If she were abducted, the time delay took on even more meaning.

A 1997 study by the state Attorney General's Office found that 74 percent of the 100 or so children abducted and killed by strangers in the U.S. each year die within three hours of being kidnapped.

"We assumed that she (was) at higher risk from the beginning due to the weather, her age and the area she was missing in," Lakewood police said in a statement in response to a News Tribune question.

Tillicum, they later pointed out, is a high-crime area with a large number of registered sex offenders. "The large time delay from when she was last seen, (7:45 a.m.), to when she was reported missing, (4:19 p.m.), also increased our assessment that she was at a high risk."

The search intensified.

Saunders, the command duty officer for the department Dec. 2, arrived at the police command post at 6:20 p.m.

Police contacted every one of Adre'anna's classmates and took statements from all the people who had seen her in the 72 hours before the morning of Dec. 2, Saunders said at a community meeting the day after the girl's remains were found April 4.

Tillicum school officials also were called to the area and questioned about whether Adre'anna made it to school that day.

In a letter later sent to Tillicum Elementary parents, Principal Tom Prentice said that though classes were canceled, school staffers were at the school throughout the day Friday and no one saw Adre'anna.

One of the first responding officers learned from Gervais that Adre'anna had a friend in the Woodbrook area, a residential area on the other side of Interstate 5 from Tillicum. The officer drove Gervais to the friend's home, where they learned Adre'anna had not been there that day.

By 7 p.m., Pierce County search-and-rescue coordinators, including unit commander Sgt. Cynthia Fajardo of the Sheriff's Department, and Lakewood detectives were on the scene planning an all-out search. Investigators from the Metro Cities Major Crime Response Unit and Pierce County's Violent Crimes Task Force also were mobilized.

Lakewood police estimate more than 20 detectives were on the case three hours after Gervais called 911.

Search commanders also called in volunteers from German Shepherd Search Dogs, Rapid Response Advanced Mobile Search and Rescue, Washington State Explorer Search and Rescue, Northwest Bloodhounds, Pierce County 4X4 Search and Rescue, Fort Lewis Marine patrol and at least two dive teams.

Lakewood police estimate that more than 500 people took part in the search in the first 24 hours. They included more than 120 trained search-and-rescue personnel, 125 military members and as many as 250 civilian volunteers.

Some were on foot. Some were in cars. Some were riding ATVs. All were supervised by a Lakewood police officer or a trained search-and-rescue coordinator.

From a command post at Tillicum Elementary, police began calling and e-mailing community leaders to rally residents to look for the girl. Police ran criminal background checks on residents who wanted to help.

David Anderson, a youth pastor at Tillicum Baptist Church who was asked to recruit volunteers, recalled seeing a map of Tillicum and the Woodbrook neighborhood on the wall of a room police had commandeered at the school.

Police added Woodbrook to the mix because it is the only residential area contiguous to Tillicum, which is bordered on the north by American Lake, on the west and south by Camp Murray and Fort Lewis and on the east by the Tacoma Country & Golf Club.

Anderson, also president of the Tillicum/Woodbrook Neighborhood Association, said the map was covered with notes in grease pencil, marking places that needed to be searched or searched a second time.

"Every single block was marked," he said.

Search commanders dispatched teams throughout Tillicum and into select areas of Woodbrook.

"They were asked to search anywhere that a small child could be found, such as abandoned houses, bushes, trash bins, etc.," Lakewood police said in a written response to a question submitted in writing by The News Tribune.

OVERNIGHT

'Bitterly cold'

About 11 p.m., Adre'anna's name was entered into the National Crime Information Center computer system, making information about her disappearance available to every police agency in the nation.

Searchers went door-to-door in Tillicum. Streets were searched and re-searched as temperatures fell to 30 degrees.

"It was just bitterly cold," Anderson said. "It was just frozen solid."

DEC. 3

The initial search ends.

By Saturday morning, volunteers were handing out fliers, divers were in American Lake and search dogs were in Woodbrook.

A team ran its dogs along the 7500 block of 146th Street Southwest. That street runs along the north end of the lot where Adre'anna's remains later were found. The team reported "two oddly acting residents at an apartment complex" near the lot, and an officer was sent to interview them. No good leads developed.

That evening, a little more than 24 hours after the ground search began, authorities ended it, though they later did selected searches as tips came in.

"The (ground) search was suspended because in the view of the search team all of the ground area of Tillicum and Woodbrook had been thoroughly searched and all tips and leads thoroughly investigated," police said in response to one of the newspaper's questions.

The focus then shifted to American Lake, where the FBI would later spend days searching docks and scanning the lake bottom with sonar.

"The proximity of her home to the lake, testimony from several sources that she frequented the lake and indications from initial dog teams that her scent went down to the lake at Harry Todd Park made this an important focus of our search," the department said.

DEC. 4 AND 6

Tips in Woodbrook

Acting on several tips, detectives searched several areas in Woodbrook.

On Dec. 4, Lakewood detectives searched the Woodbrook Middle School campus and fields to the south of the school, along 150th Street Southwest, after two middle school girls said they saw someone resembling Adre'anna nearby.

They found nothing.

The description of the clothes the girls gave police did not match those Adre'anna was last seen wearing.

Two days later, detectives searched what a school-aged boy called "tunnels" in the Woodbrook area. The so-called tunnels included an old culvert and a hollowed-out space under a concrete foundation, said Lt. David Guttu. No clues were found.

Also that day, King County investigators flew their Guardian 1 helicopter, which is equipped with infrared cameras, over the Woodbrook area. Teams also searched a large, wooded area near the Clover Park Vocational School and another wooded area near a small lake at 146th and Murray Road.

December through March

Rewards increase. Leads don't.

Winter and spring were a slow grind for investigators.

On Dec. 7, Adre'anna was listed on national Web sites for missing children.

Before the month ended, investigators:

* Confiscated an abandoned motorboat tied to a public pier at American Lake North County Park and a nearby garbage container.

* Gave polygraph tests to Gervais and Federici. Gervais passed; Federici's test was inconclusive.

* Used sonar equipment to map the floor of American Lake and again sent cadaver dogs to search Tillicum.

* Searched the home of a friend of Gervais and Federici, seizing clothing and other items.

In January, with tips slowing, anonymous donors boosted the reward for information in the case to $3,000. It went up to $10,000 by the end of the month.

No new leads developed.

APRIL 4

A discovery

Two boys playing in a blackberry bramble-choked lot found skeletal remains near 146th Street Southwest and Spring Street Southwest, less than two miles from Adre'anna's home.

On April 5, the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office used dental records to identify the remains as those of Adre'anna.

At a community meeting that night, Saunders said a thorough search of the lot was not done initially.

Someone asked why.

Searching there would have required cutting through masses of blackberry brambles, Saunders said, and there was no credible reason to do so at the time.

Bloodhounds didn't alert their handlers when run along the perimeter of the lot, he said, and there were no reports that Adre'anna was seen near that lot.

"I think one of the explanations might be she was put there later," Saunders said.

In hindsight, the chief told upset Tillicum residents, his team erred by not going into the lot for a closer look.

"We didn't search that area," Saunders said. "I wish we had."

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644

adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268

stacey.mulick@thenewstribune.com

Staff writer Paul Sand contributed to this report.

MISSING PERSON SEARCH FUNDAMENTALS

Law enforcement agencies should:

* Maintain a detailed activity log.

* Log the names and affiliations of all searchers, both sworn officers and civilians.

* Thoroughly brief all search team leaders.

* Instruct searchers on patterns and techniques to be used.

* Tell searchers not to touch anything they find but to report discoveries to team leaders.

* Ensure searchers do not work alone.

* Document all search activities.

* Screen all searchers to safeguard against use of inappropriate people.

Source: "Missing and Abducted Children: A Law-Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management," a document of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

THE SEARCH, BY THE NUMBERS

Lakewood police and others devoted considerable time and resources to finding Adre'anna Jackson. Here are numbers from the two days of the main search, Dec. 2-3:

535: Number of people who actively searched for the girl, including police (40), search-and-rescue personnel from multiple jurisdictions (120), active-duty military members (125) and volunteer residents (200 to 250)

3,300: Hours official search-and-rescue personnel spent looking for the girl

10,400: Miles driven by searchers

$50,657: Amount Lakewood police spent for overtime during the first 24 hours

Source: Lakewood Police Department

HOW WE DID THIS STORY

To reconstruct the search for Adre'anna Jackson, The News Tribune relied on information provided by police officials, their past public statements and interviews with volunteer searchers. Citing the ongoing nature of its investigation, the department declined to turn over hundreds of pages of records related to the search. As a compromise, department officials provided detailed answers to nearly 30 questions submitted by The News Tribune.

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