Nevada first lady joins volunteers in search for missing woman
RENO ” Two weeks after she vanished from a friend’s house in Reno, a 19-year-old woman was the target of a search Saturday by Nevada first lady Dawn Gibbons and hundreds of other volunteers.
Volunteers combed neighborhoods and wildlands around Reno in an effort to find any sign of Brianna Denison, who police think was abducted Jan. 20 by a serial rapist linked by DNA to a string of attacks near the University of Nevada, Reno campus.
Gibbons spent much of the day with a 14-member team conducting a grid search on the sage-covered lower slopes of Peavine Mountain above northwest Reno. Standing 20 feet apart, team members looked for clothing and other evidence as they walked straight lines.
Gibbons said any missing person case is tragic but the local disappearance struck home because her 20-year-old son, Jimmy, was a classmate of Denison at Reno High School.
“It touches your heart,” she said. “She’s a nice kid, a really nice kid. It helps when you’re out looking for her, for anything that could find her. Obviously, we want her back alive.”
Police continued to track down leads Saturday in the case that has put neighborhoods around the university on edge and prompted expanded campus patrols and escorts.
Denison, a student at Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College who was visiting her hometown over winter break, was last seen sleeping on a couch at a friend’s off-campus rental house after she attended a party at a Reno casino.
Police have since said DNA evidence links the suspected abduction to two other attacks on women near the university late last year, and that an earlier on-campus attack also could be related.
Bob Walcutt, executive director of the Laura Recovery Center based in Friendswood, Texas, said more than 250 volunteers took part Saturday in a police-coordinated search that has gradually fanned out from the university area.
“Police have opened some areas that they would like us to look at and that’s where we’re turning our attention,” said Walcutt, a search coordinator. “We’re looking at any place that primarily a person could get in with a vehicle and dump someone.”
Brad Dennis, search director for the KlassKids Foundation based in Sausalito, Calif., said volunteer search teams found the body of missing 7-year-old Danielle van Dam outside San Diego in 2002 as well as the shoes and backpack of missing 12-year-old Amber Harris of Omaha, Neb., in 2005. Harris was later found dead.
“Volunteers have been extremely effective in eliminating areas for law enforcement,” said Dennis, who also has helped coordinate the Reno search. “It takes a joint effort on such big cases.”
Searchers in the Denison case face challenges because of the Reno area’s weather and surrounding wildlands, Dennis added. Like Gibbons, many volunteers must walk through snow.
“You have a lot of rural areas and a lot of open space and a ton of snow on the ground,” he said. “Every single day you face some challenge with the weather, whether it’s the winds or snow.”
The volunteer search for Denison will continue daily at least through next week, but will eventually be scaled back as people lose interest, Dennis said.
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