1 of 2

SOUTH SALT LAKE — The darkest places seemed the most promising, so they pushed aside their worst thoughts and peered inside.

It had been more than 24 hours since 7-year-old Hser Nay Moo was last seen playing outside her home in her pink Sunday dress.

Nearly 1,100 people turned out Tuesday to search the neighborhoods of South Salt Lake, looking for any sign of the girl, an immigrant from Myanmar, missing her two front teeth. The search ended tragically late Tuesday with the discovery of her body.

But earlier in the day, each searcher prayed they might help find the girl, and each was afraid his or her prayers might be answered.

"I'm scared," said Jesse Espittia, who took the day off work to help search. "I'm hoping for the best. But every time I open a Dumpster ... God forbid."

Espittia was hardly alone. As groups of people peeked over fences and peered through the tinted windows of cars parked along the streets, searchers were both idealists and fatalists as they talked about the girl.

Using sticks, they poked through garbage bins and bushes, and looked in every window well.

Have you seen a little girl around here, they asked a young boy bouncing a basketball.

"I looked for her all morning," he said. "I can't find her."

Searchers talked about their reasons for skipping work or cutting their ski day short to come look. They knew someone who knew the family, or just heard the Amber Alert.

"To see how far this thing has come is really amazing," said Ed Smart, who became one of the Amber Alert system's biggest proponents after his daughter, Elizabeth, went missing in 2002. "I'm glad to see the family get this type of support."

More often than not, searchers talked about their own families.

"Her face looks like my niece's," said Wendy Chanhthala. "I can't even imagine. That is somebody's little girl."

"She lives next door, and our children play with their children," said Chester Burnett, who spent the day searching with his wife and stepson. "It's close to home. It could have been ours. That's how the whole complex feels."

If they ever needed it, they said, they hoped others would do the same for them.

So they kept looking.

Espittia scrambled underneath an overpass and searched the gaps. Chanhthala peeled back a tarp covering the ground. Almost always, there was nothing to report.

An old woman sitting on her porch told volunteers her back yard had been searched twice already.

"You're welcome to look again," she said.

"You never know," Gray Rowles replied.

Alongside a set of rundown railroad tracks, Chanhthala found a pink shirt and a pair of black and pink sneakers that matched the description of the clothes Hser Nay Moo was last seen wearing. Officers looked at the clothing, but the items were too big for the girl's 3-foot-8-inch frame.

"I just wish we knew," Chanhthala said. "It would be better to know."

So when they finished searching one area, they pushed aside their worst thoughts and headed back out to look for the little girl from Myanmar missing her two front teeth.


E-mail: afalk@desnews.com