Search under way for 9-year-old mid-Missouri girl -

Search under way for 9-year-old mid-Missouri girl


ST. MARTINS, Mo. (AP) -- Several hundred people were searching a rural, wooded area in central Missouri on Thursday for a 9-year-old girl who did not return home after visiting a friend a night earlier.

Cole County Sheriff Greg White said Elizabeth Olten left the friend's house around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday and was supposed to walk about a quarter mile to her home in St. Martins, just west of Jefferson City. She was reported missing around 7 p.m.

Elizabeth was listed as an "endangered missing person" and the FBI joined the case, White said. The sheriff said it did not appear that the girl had run away from home, but no Amber Alert had been issued because there was no evidence of an abduction or foul play.

Onna Adrian, whose daughter-in-law is Elizabeth's older sister, said Elizabeth generally walked home from the friend's house through neighbors' yards rather than along the two-lane county highway that runs past their houses.

Adrian said Elizabeth did not normally hide and, if confronted, would have screamed and tried to run away.

"She is very shy," Adrian said. "She's not the type to get in a vehicle with anybody."

Elizabeth, who has long brown hair and brown eyes, is about 5-feet, 2-inches tall and weighs 102 pounds. She was last seen wearing a pink scarf, sweater and T-shirt with butterflies, blue jeans and white shoes.

Adrian said the girl's mother did not want to talk to a reporter Thursday. Elizabeth's father, Dale Olten Sr., has been in a Missouri prison since April serving a four-year sentence for drug possession.

The search on Thursday focused on a section of woods about one-half mile wide and one-half mile long, which police zeroed in on by triangulating the girl's cell phone location, White said. But the phone battery had died by Thursday morning. An uneven terrain, high brush and soaking weather hampered the search effort.

About 200 volunteers showed up to help nearly 100 emergency personnel. White said several square miles had been examined. Vehicles filled the parking lot and crowded streets surrounding a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall being used as a command post.

David Wininger, a volunteer firefighter who helped look until early Thursday morning and returned after work, said it was "overwhelming" and "beautiful" to see the outpouring of assistance. Wininger, 51, said groups of searchers had spread out in lines across fields and woods to cover every square foot.

"It's very brushy. It's very hilly. There's a lot of rocks, trees and brush piles," Wininger said. "It's a very rough place to be."

Emergency vehicles from various agencies parked along the highway that runs past several houses in the search area. Among the nearby farm fields is a large, muddy brown pond. Dog teams from the Department of Corrections and an urban search and rescue team joined officials from the nearby fire departments and numerous state and local police agencies.

On Wednesday night, the Missouri State Highway Patrol searched for Elizabeth using a helicopter with a thermal imaging radar. But White said fall foliage hindered that effort. Around 2:30 a.m. Thursday, all but one search team broke.

Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. James Keathley said that helicopter wasn't being used Thursday because of the poor weather.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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