Thousands of volunteers comb woods for missing woman; fresh plot pointed out by cadaver dogs was marijuana stash
The Associated Press
UNIONTOWN — Volunteers on horseback and in golf carts and all-terrain vehicles searched through backyards, vacant fields and a Christmas tree farm on Thursday for a woman who was nine months pregnant when she disappeared last week.
They were told to walk three feet apart, looking for tire marks and fresh dirt.
“You just can’t go home and assume somebody will take care of it,” said Barb Schollaerd, 51, of North Canton. “We look after our own.”
Jessie Davis, whose baby is due July 3, was last heard from in a phone call with her mother on June 13. Two days later, her mother checked on her home in nearby Lake Township and found it in shambles, with the furniture overturned, a comforter missing and her 2-year-old grandson wandering around alone.
The little boy told investigators: “Mommy was crying. Mommy broke the table. Mommy’s in rug.”
Whitney Davis, the missing woman’s younger sister, said the boy misses his mother. “He asks where she is,” she said.
Authorities have talked with and searched the home of the man who fathered the son of the 26-year-old Davis, although investigators have repeatedly said Canton police officer Bobby Cutts Jr. is not a suspect. Cutts, 30, says he had nothing to do with Davis’ disappearance. The woman’s family says he is also the father of Davis’ unborn baby.
About 1,800 volunteers searched the area around Davis’ home for about 4½ hours until the effort was suspended because of rain. Groups of 80 to 100 searchers covered a total area of about 8 square miles, Tim Miller, director of Texas EquuSearch.
An FBI evidence crew and investigators spent several hours examining a site of freshly dug dirt in a field at the end of a dirt road more than a mile from Davis’ home. Family members who were with the team that found the spot embraced when it was discovered.
But the site turned out to be a marijuana plot, about 6-feet long and 3-feet wide, said Stark County sheriff’s Capt. Gary Shankle. Investigators responded to the scene because the freshly dug dirt caused a reaction among private search dogs, he said.
“It’s very frustrating, but we just can’t leave any stone unturned,” Shankle said.
Earlier, Whitney Davis said she was amazed by the crowd of volunteers. She wore a T-shirt with her sister’s picture and the word “Missing” in red letters.
“I think we’re going to find her,” she said.
The turnout was the largest of 704 searches by the internationally active EquuSearch, which brought a remote-control airplane equipped with a camera.
“We’ve never had that many show up at one time,” Miller said.
His group had expected about 200 volunteers for the search. “It’s overwhelming. It’s almost out of control. But we’re going to make it happen,” he said early in the day.
One woman wore high heels but gave up 20 minutes later after walking through a wooded area. Another maneuvered on crutches. “I’m here for the whole thing,” said Tammy Robinson, 47.
Team leaders were told to look for tire tracks and any debris or other things that appear out of the ordinary. Miller also instructed that if a body was found, the leaders should stay with it and move other searchers away.
“I’m hopeful we can find her alive,” he said. “If not, the second best thing we can do is be back here next week for a funeral.”
Some volunteers brought their dogs or children. People signing up to help formed a line about two football fields long along a sidewalk at a fire station, where individuals, businesses and restaurants overwhelmed Red Cross volunteers with donations of food and drinks for the searchers.
Andrew Dolph / MEDINA GAZETTE
Crime scene tape is drawn across a driveway Thursday after search teams alerted authorities in Stark County during the search for Jessie Davis.