Several hundred searchers had scoured a wooded area in central Missouri, but a rain-soaked Thursday ended without finding a 9-year-old girl who did not return home after visiting a friend the night before.
Cole County Sheriff Greg White said Elizabeth Olten left the friend's house around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday and was supposed to walk about a quarter mile to her home in St. Martins, just west of Jefferson City. She was reported missing around 7 p.m.
Elizabeth was listed as an "endangered missing person" and federal authorities have joined the case, White said. The sheriff said it did not appear that the girl had run away from home, and no Amber Alert had been issued because there was no evidence of an abduction or foul play.
Speaking to reporters in a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall that served as a command post, White said the primary search area had been checked at least twice. He said nothing was found linked to Elizabeth. Search crews withdrew for the night and planned to start again on all-terrain vehicles at 7:30 on Friday morning.
Onna Adrian, whose daughter-in-law is Elizabeth's older sister, said Elizabeth generally walked home from the friend's house through neighbors' yards rather than along the two-lane county highway that runs past their houses.
Adrian said Elizabeth did not normally hide and, if confronted, would have screamed and tried to run away.
"She is very shy," Adrian said. "She's not the type to get in a vehicle with anybody."
Elizabeth, who has long brown hair and brown eyes, is about 5-feet, 2-inches tall and weighs 102 pounds. She was last seen wearing a pink scarf and shirt with butterflies, blue jeans and white shoes.
Adrian said the girl's mother did not want to talk to a reporter Thursday. Elizabeth's father, Dale Olten Sr., has been in a Missouri prison since April serving a four-year sentence for drug possession.
The primary search on Thursday focused on a section of woods about half a mile wide and half a mile long, which police zeroed in on by triangulating the girl's cell phone location, White said. The phone has not been found, and the battery died by Thursday morning. Uneven terrain, high brush and soaking weather were hindrances.
David Wininger, a volunteer firefighter who helped look until early Thursday morning and returned after work, said it was "overwhelming" and "beautiful" to see the outpouring of assistance. Wininger, 51, said groups of searchers spread out in lines across fields and woods to cover every square foot.
"It's very brushy. It's very hilly. There's a lot of rocks, trees and brush piles," Wininger said. "It's a very rough place to be."
More than 200 volunteers showed to help nearly 100 emergency personnel, and some were turned away.
That angered Gene Bauer, who drove 45 minutes from Eldon to help. Bauer criticized how the search had been conducted and said he would examine gravel roads on his own if needed.
Vicki Olten, who is Elizabeth's aunt, called the girl a "tough tomboy," but that she was afraid someone had tried to hurt her.
"I want my niece home. I want her safe," said Olten, of Russellville. "She's a beautiful young girl and got a full life ahead of her. She does not deserve this. Her family does not deserve this."
The Missouri State Highway Patrol set up a check point on a highway near the house and interviewed motorists. The Patrol used a helicopter with a thermal imaging radar on Wednesday, but poor weather prevented a repeat of that on Thursday. Officials hoped it could be used again Friday.
A police tip line for those with information is: 866-362-6422.
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