1 of 17
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Media members, Salt Lake police officers and family members of Aletha Jo Williams walk Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, along the Jordan River in West Valley City to ask for help in finding Williams, who has been missing since 2002.

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Lovoina Ortega has been waiting for her sister to come home for 12 years.

"There's always that hope that she's going to come walking through the door," Ortega said. "I just have thoughts of her smiles still in my head. Who wouldn't want to see that again?"

Police recently received "several concrete tips" prompting a search for evidence of Aletha Jo Williams, who went missing in March 2002 at the age of 25, according to Salt Lake City police detective Cody Lougy.

KSL's Chopper 5 was used Friday to help police search areas along the Jordan River near 3000 South.

"We're using this time right now because the river is low, and hopefully that will improve visibility on the shore," Lougy said. "Anything they see in the chopper, they'll relay that information to the officers on the ground for further investigation."

Earlier in February, divers from the Utah Department of Public Safety also investigated the area but were unsuccessful due to strong undercurrents in the murky river, police said.

The years of silence on the whereabouts of Williams were what prompted several tips to police, Lougy said.

"As time passes, people's allegiance change. Their hearts are softened. They feel bad about what they know or what they've seen, and so they tend to do the right thing and step forward," he said. "We know people out there know what happened to her."

Police are still treating the case as a missing persons investigation but are not ruling out the possibility of foul play, Lougy said.

"We'll follow the evidence where it takes us," he said.

Family members say Williams was outgoing, happy and loved to spend time with her son, who was 8 when his mother went missing. Though she had occasional dealings with drugs, she would always come home, family members said.

Comment on this story

Williams' stepfather, Rick Martin, said the search has resurrected a familiar sadness, though the family remains hopeful the 12-year ordeal will soon be brought to a close.

"It's just hard," Martin said. "You kind of get past it a little bit, and then this comes up and it opens up another can of worms. If there's anybody out there that knows anything, please let us know. Let us get this done."

Ortega fought tears as she pleaded for information on her sister's disappearance.

"I just ask that anybody who knows anything (to) come forward, whether good or bad," she said. "Give us some closure so that we might be able to get past this, bring her home, bury her."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com