Officials call off extensive search for missing 13-year-old Thursday; girl later found
HERRIMAN — Officials were forced Thursday night to call off an extensive search for 13-year-old Brooklyn Gittins in the face of a fierce winter storm.
Law enforcement and family members thanked the volunteers who helped comb the area, checking and rechecking everything in the 17-square-mile search radius, as they shared the unfortunate news that there was still no sign of Brooklyn.
"I have five kids, and I know if one of them was missing, there wouldn't be an inch where I wouldn't look and I'd need help. So we figured we'd get out here and do what we can and bring some good results," said Jenni Goodrich, one of the many volunteers who showed up to help search.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said more than 1,000 volunteers have helped in search. Now, the mission to find Brooklyn will be passed to search and rescue personnel, who will conduct a specialized mounted and canine search to access areas unreachable to volunteers on foot.
While it appears Brooklyn left her home on her own, there are few leads in the disappearance. The family volunteered phone and computer records to police, none of which contained any clues, Winder said.
Only one thing was clear Thursday night: After two full days of searching, Brooklyn was nowhere to be found.
"What we do know is we've got a 13-year-old girl that's been gone now coming up on 72 hours in conditions that are extremely concerning," Winder said as the search concluded for the day.
Brooklyn was last seen in her home, 13912 S. Friendship Drive (5755 West), at 8:40 p.m. Tuesday, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal. But when her parents went to check on her at 7 a.m. Wednesday, she was gone. There were no signs of forced entry into the house.
Brooklyn was believed to only be wearing black pajama pants with a Scottie dog pattern and a T-shirt. Police originally thought she had been wearing a "Lake Powell" T-shirt but said Thursday she was likely wearing a T-shirt with a pink University of Utah logo. She does not have her eyeglasses with her, something Hoyal said is unusual for the girl. Her family also fears she does not have shoes.
"I'm very hopeful that this young lady has decided to leave on her own volition, for whatever reason, and simply has not returned," Winder said Thursday. "We just want her to come on home — no harm, no foul."
Brooklyn has run away before, Hoyal said, but under different circumstances. Craig Hiller, the girl's step-grandfather, said everything in Brooklyn's home was normal Tuesday night.
"(There was) nothing going on at home that would cause her to leave. They were exercising before she went to bed," he said. "Everything was fine. … We want her to call or come home."
Matt Tulin, the fiance of Brooklyn's mother, said the family remains optimistic for a good ending.
"I know we'll find Brooklyn. I want to say to Brooklyn, 'Please come home. We love you,'" he said. "With our faith, there's a lot of hope. We know the outcome will be positive."
Member's of Brooklyn's Young Women's group from her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward gathered Thursday to help in a different way, tying yellow ribbons along trees, fences and streetlights. The youth hoped to mark a pathway for Brooklyn in her favorite color, leading her home.
Several law enforcement officers, fire agencies and community groups participated in Thursday's search. Search dogs and helicopters were used, and others even volunteered to bring horses and ATVs to help.
Volunteers started gathering at 8 a.m. at the LDS Church meetinghouse at 5562 W. 13680 South and were told to expect inclement weather.
Each volunteer was required to fill out an application and have a background check conducted on the spot. They were then given an ID card so police could also keep track of the searchers. The volunteers were also required to watch a short instructional video before being broken into groups of about 10 people and sent out to cover a quarter- to half-mile area.
Groups could be seen all over Herriman on Thursday searching fields and looking around construction equipment and vacant homes. Volunteers were told to check the doors of vacant sheds, barns and outbuildings in case Brooklyn was scared and was hiding inside one of them.
Hoyal also encouraged all residents, even those not involved in the search effort, to check sheds and outbuildings on their properties to make sure no one was hiding inside. Volunteers also posted and passed out fliers at local businesses.
Susan Byerly was one of the volunteer searchers Thursday. Her best friend is Brooklyn's mother. Byerly said the family was feeling as any family of a missing child would.
"I just don't know what to do or think or what would prompt Brooklyn to leave if she left or what would prompt someone to take her if she was taken. It's almost a helpless feeling," she said.
Byerly said she was very appreciative of the volunteer efforts.
"It's nice that not only so many people are oriented to the service, but also relating that could be their kid or their best friend or their cousin or whatever and just want to get out and search for them," she said.
Tanya Pusey also helped in the search, even though she doesn't know Brooklyn or her family.
"I would want everyone looking for (my son) if something was wrong," she said.
Callie Sainsbury has received Community Emergency Response Team training for 13 years. She has volunteered during the wildfires in Herriman and was out helping in the search for Brooklyn on Thursday.
"It's just something I can do to help the community," she said.
Investigators had not ruled out any possibilities of what might have happened to Brooklyn, Hoyal said Thursday.
Anyone who has information about Brooklyn can call a tip line set up by police at 801-743-7280.
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