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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2001: Wichita girl vanishes overnight; 50 officers scour neighborhood

BY ALEX BRANCH
The Wichita Eagle

Editor's note: Story originally published on Sept. 6, 2001

A 4-year-old girl who disappeared from her bed overnight remained missing late Wednesday night as 50 law enforcement officers scoured neighborhoods, parks and fields in north Wichita.

Police would not say whether they think Jaquilla Scales was abducted or wandered away from home. But they stressed that they were still approaching her disappearance as a missing person case rather than a criminal investig ation.

"We're still optimistic we can find her," said Wichita police Lt. Roy Mitchell.

Police focused much of their search on neighborhoods near 16th Street and Volutsia Avenue, and Grove Park, an area full of fields and shrubs stretching from the Canal Route to Hillside Avenue, and from 28th to 37th streets north.

Authorities would say only that information gathered through interviews with family members led them to that location.

As the news spread of the little girl's disappearance, however, Mitchell said more sources appeared.

"We are getting calls from the community on this," he said. "People are starting to call in. We're still putting things together."

The girl vanished from a home in the 1600 block of Volutsia Avenue, where she lives with her mother and several other relatives, family members said.

Jaquilla, wearing a knee-length nightshirt, was last seen at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday asleep in her bed with her great-grandmother and 2-year-old brother.

The mother was not at home, relatives said. Family members weren't clear about where the father lives.

When the great-grandmother awoke at about 3:50 a.m., she realized Jaquilla was gone, said Toni Scofield, Jaquilla's grandmother, who lives next-door.

The back door was open, family members said. It wasn't locked because the lock was previously broken.

"I just pray that if someone took her they bring her back all right," Scofield said outside the home.

Police were called around 4 a.m., and officers flooded the neighborhood, blocking off the street in front of the house.

Cadets in blue training uniforms were brought in to help officers go door to door, passing out fliers bearing Jaquilla's picture.

A bloodhound and a German shepherd were used to track the girl's scent through the neighborhood. It didn't work.

The commotion and word of the girl's disappearance shook neighbors.

"I pulled up my blinds and said, 'Oh, my Lord,' " said Clarie Dempsey, who lives at 15th and Volutsia. "They had dogs walking and police everywhere. . . . That poor girl."

At about noon, police announced that they were moving their command post from the house on Volutsia north to Grove Park.

Early Wednesday evening, police closed the command post and conducted the investigation from their downtown headquarters.

Rain fell in the early afternoon, soaking police and Sedgwick County sheriff's deputies as they combed the park.

"We've got guys staying late," Mitchell said. "They're not afraid to get out there and hustle in the rain and the wind."

When the thunderstorm passed, the air grew hot and humid. Officers took short breaks to drink water and wring the sweat out of their socks.

Lt. John Speer spread a map across a plastic trash bin as he and other supervisors debated where to dispatch searchers.

Meanwhile, the search continued in Jaquilla's neighborhood.

Mitchell said that today's search would be as intense, but cover a tighter area.

As officers again went door to door Wednesday, Jaquilla's family spent much of the day sitting in chairs in the front yard.

It seemed to them that police were doing everything they could to find the girl.

"They look like they're searching hard," said Aletha Scofield, Jaquilla's aunt.

Police stopped several people as they tried to leave the neighborhood.

A young man driving a garbage truck was flagged down on his route through the area. Officers searched the back of his truck.

A man with a gray beard hauling watermelons was stopped while officers checked his trailer.

Family members watched, growing wearier as the day went on.

"It's getting really hard," Aletha Scofield said. "Every hour that passes makes it even worse."

A few family members agreed to talk on camera to television reporters.

Jaquilla's cousin, Tanisha Amuneke, stood in front of a camera talking about how scared she was for her little cousin.

Then her face fell.

"I don't want to talk anymore," she said, breaking into tears.

Another relative hugged her and walked her back to where the family had gathered.

They sat down together and waited.

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