Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Search for Amber Dubois continues

In August, police thought they had found Amber Dubois, the 14-year-old Escondido girl missing since February.

For three weeks, they had been tracking a girl who had been seen near Garberville in Humboldt County.

“Somebody saw a flier and said, ‘Wow, I'm sure that's her,’ ” said Escondido police Lt. Bob Benton.

Escondido police contacted deputies in the county 700 miles away, and more fliers were distributed.

More tips came in. The girl looked like Amber, and she had told people that was her name. She had also told people she was from Escondido.

“We thought we had it solved,” Benton said.

But like so many leads and tips since Amber disappeared, the efforts were for naught.

Deputies found the girl, whose name really is Amber. And she had run away from her home in Escondido — Escondido Lakes, Wash. She was 17.

“Talk about your coincidences,” Benton said. “We thought for sure it was her. That's been the toughest part in the emotional roller coaster of getting what we believe are very credible tips and that Amber would be coming home, to the realization that it's not her.”

Escondido police, with the assistance at one time or another of dozens of law enforcement agencies — including the FBI — continue to search for Amber. They have been able to determine to some extent what didn't happen through a process of elimination, but what did happen remains a mystery.

Tips keep coming in about possible sightings. On Friday, Benton said, a tip prompted a search for Amber in South Carolina.

“Fresh eyes” in the department are reviewing thousands of pages of transcribed interviews and tips to make sure nothing has been overlooked.

“It's very frustrating from our standpoint that for the amount of time and resources we've thrown at this thing that we have yet to locate her or find out what happened to Amber,” Benton said.

Last seen Feb. 13
Amber was last seen at 7:10 a.m. Feb. 13 walking to Escondido High School on North Broadway. She was walking with a tall boy who has yet to be identified.

Two video recordings made from cameras at the school show that Amber did not keep walking toward the campus.

It's possible, though police think it unlikely, that she was abducted on the street. It's also possible she walked across the football field or turned around and headed north. The cameras would have recorded her if she had walked past the football field or near the main building.

By the next day, police were very concerned. They interviewed her family and friends.

“Essentially, we found out she is a normal 14-year-old,” Benton said. “She liked to read. She was somewhat of a loner, but it was very much out of character for her to be missing, and that's why we jumped on this case early on. We realized it was very suspicious. We've been working it full time ever since.”

On average, 550 missing-person reports come into Escondido police each year. Most concern teenagers, usually runaways found within a few days.

Nationally, it is estimated that more than 1 million children go missing for at least a short while each year. The vast majority are found within a day.

It has been more than eight months since Amber disappeared.

More than 500 interviews of friends, family, sex offenders and others have been conducted during the search.

More than 1,200 tips have come in. Many are useless, like suggestions that police check her cell phone records, which was done immediately. Some are far-fetched, like those from people claiming to be psychics who report such things as, “I see her standing by a white fence.”

A $100,000 reward for information has been offered.

Amber's cell phone went dead the morning she disappeared and was activated once, for only a few seconds, the next day.

“We don't know what significance that has,” Benton said.

Experts have dug into the computers Amber used, and even today some of the Internet activity isn't fully known because servers are located out of the country. Investigators say Amber didn't have any online activity that might suggest she was thinking of running away or that she was in contact with someone who might mean her harm.

A red pickup seen in a grainy video parked in the school bus lot near the football field has been all but dismissed as a lead.

“We think we've identified it,” Benton said. “We're hoping to confirm soon that the red truck had nothing to do with the case.”

Two months ago, police thought they had another strong lead.

They were getting tips about the sighting of a girl who looked just like Amber. She had been seen in the San Francisco area, as well as in parts of Central California and even Yosemite National Park.

Sam Rubin of Holtville said he picked up a girl and boy in Yosemite on July 29 or 30 who told him that they had been camping and that a bear had eaten their food.

On his way home, Rubin saw an Amber flier in a gas station in Lake Tahoe and was “99 percent” sure it was Amber he had picked up.

Police tracked the girl for weeks, and finally authorities found her in Clearlake, about 100 miles northwest of Sacramento.

She gave a false name, and Clearlake police sent Escondido her photograph. They, too, thought it was Amber.

It wasn't. It was a 15-year-old girl who looked remarkably similar and had run away from home in Antioch in the Bay Area three months earlier. She was returned to her mother.

Upcoming birthday
Amber will turn 15 on Sunday.

Her mother, Carrie McGonigle, and father, Maurice Dubois, have been doing all they can to keep Amber's case in the spotlight in the hope of generating more tips.

They've recently appeared on two nationally syndicated television shows and made headlines last month when they criticized the police for not doing enough. They have since met with police and have softened their criticism.

“There were some miscommunications,” Maurice Dubois said. “We were not told specifics about the case at the time. It's an open investigation, so we can't be told everything. We know that.”

The search and the waiting are difficult, he said.

“Yesterday was the eight-month anniversary of her disappearance. That was rough,” Dubois said Wednesday. “Planning a candlelight vigil for her 15th birthday, that's been rougher.”

The vigil will likely be at Lake Dixon in Escondido, but plans have not yet been completed.

Where do police go from here?

Benton said detectives will follow any new leads.

“If you're sitting at home reading this article and you think you have information that is significant — call,” said Lt. Craig Carter. “It's going to be that one piece of information that's going to push us over the edge. We'd like to have that one piece of information.”

Original Story from Union-Tribune

J. Harry Jones: (760) 737-7579;

Please visit www.bringamberhome.com to find out more information on how you can help.

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