FORT WAYNE, Ind. — FBI agents joined the search for a missing 9-year-old Indiana girl with physical and emotional problems on Monday, descending on the mobile home park where she lived that's a known haven for registered sex offenders.
About a half-dozen people in black windbreakers, several of whom identified themselves as FBI agents, were at the mobile home park in Fort Wayne where Aliahna Lemmon went missing from a family friend's home on Friday. Some with search dogs were seen at a nearby storage facility.
FBI agents also were outside a trailer identified by the girl's step-grandfather, David Story, as her mother Tarah Souder's home. A box truck was backed up to the mobile home Monday night, and a sheriff's official said a forensics team was sweeping the trailer looking for evidence such as hairs and fibers.
Across the street more than 100 people gathered at a candlelight vigil and prayed for the girl's safe return. Story cried briefly as he thanked the crowd for their support.
Monday's renewed search came a day after local police significantly rolled back a coordinated effort by several law enforcement agencies, said Fort Wayne police spokesman Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel. He said the same size search could not be sustained on Sunday because of the Christmas holiday.
Local police haven't said what they think happened to Aliahna.
"Children don't just walk away during Christmastime," said David Story, Aliahna.'s stepgrandfather.
Meanwhile, agents at the scene Monday wouldn't say why the FBI was involved. An agency spokesman didn't immediately return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
More than 100 emergency workers conducted an extensive search Saturday for Aliahna around the rundown mobile home park on Fort Wayne's north side where she was last seen. No active search was done Sunday for the girl.
According to a state website, 15 registered sex offenders live at the mobile home park that numbers about two dozen homes.
Elizabeth Watkins, 52, who has lived at the park for six months with her 4-year-old granddaughter, said it's well-known that several sex offenders live in the neighborhood.
"It's scary," she said. "I don't know how a parent could leave their child alone."
Aliahna's mother, Tarah Souders, 28, told The Journal Gazette her daughter has vision and hearing problems and suffers from attention deficit disorder and emotional problems. She also has a history of sleepwalking, family members said.
Aliahna and her sisters were staying at a family friend's nearby home because their mother had been sick with the flu and Aliahna's stepfather works at night and sleeps during the day, The Journal Gazette reported Monday.
Mike Plumadore, 39, told the newspaper Sunday that he left the three girls in his mobile home about 6 a.m. Friday and went to a gas station about a mile away to buy a cigar. Authorities have said the store's surveillance video shows him there about that time.
"I had deadbolted the door," he said. "When I got back, all the girls was here."
He said he smoked his cigar and went back to sleep, then woke up about 10 a.m. when Aliahna's mother called. After that call, he realized the door to the home was unlocked and that Aliahna was gone. He said Aliahna's sisters, both 6 years old, told him that Aliahna had left with her mom.
Plumadore said it wasn't until he talked with Aliahna's mom about 8:30 p.m. that they realized she was missing and police were notified.
Plumadore is not listed on the state's website that lists registered sex offenders. He has a criminal record in Florida and North Carolina that includes convictions for trespass and assault, along with traffic and alchol-related offenses.
Tarah Souders said miscommunication between the two of them caused the delay in determining that Aliahna had vanished.
"She's never wandered off," Souders said. "She's never done anything like this before."
But Aliahna does have a history of sleepwalking, even unlocking doors and going outside while sleeping, said her grandmother, Amber Story.
"I just hope that she's not suffering or in pain," Story said.
Souders said her daughter also has vision and hearing problems and suffers from attention deficit disorder and emotional problems.