Searches at river find no sign of missing boy

07/07/2010 1:29 PM

07/07/2010 1:29 PM

Search dogs zigzagged through the woods with their noses to the ground, and detectives and anthropologists followed with digging tools in hand Saturday in hopes of finding a grave site or bones.

But the six-hour search along the Whitewater River south of K-254 yielded no clues about what happened to Adam Herrman, who disappeared from a Towanda home a decade ago at age 11.

"At least this area has been looked at," Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy said.

The search will likely continue this week along a roughly 4-mile stretch of wooded river banks, but Murphy said investigators, volunteers and search dogs would spend today resting.

The scouring isn't expected to produce any evidence in the case, but Murphy said it's common sense to explore the area given that it's a popular hangout -- and a place Adam may have wandered to if, as his foster parents say, he ran away.

The Herrmans' home used to be about a mile away.

"What we're looking for is anything that could have been left behind, anything that could be a grave site, anything that could be bone," Murphy said as chilling winds blew at the outset of the search. "We're not really sure what we might find."

A team of 30 to 35 investigators looked for possible grave sites, bones and any other clues. They included Butler County investigators, three Sedgwick County Emergency Management K-9 teams and Wichita detectives.

The search was complicated because any clues may have been swept up by frequent river flooding, and the area is a favorite spot to fish, explore and drink beer, Murphy said.

"You've got to have hope," Murphy said. "But you've got to be realistic. That's what today is, a what-if."

A group of Wichita State University anthropology students accompanied Peer Moore-Jansen, an associate professor and chairman of anthropology at WSU, during the search. He has worked with Butler County officials on other cases.

Moore-Jansen and his students were enlisted in case any bones were found; they would tell investigators whether the bones were animal or human.

Murphy said only a few locations were tagged for a closer look, and none of them produced anything of interest.

Though authorities are treating the case as if Adam were dead, they can't rule out the possibility that he's still alive, and they've followed tips from people who thought they might know Adam after seeing a computer-generated image of what he might look like today.

Altogether, Murphy said, detectives have received about 80 tips.

Saturday's search near K-254 and River Valley Road followed an examination of the Herrmans' current home in Derby and their former home, which was moved from Towanda to a rural neighborhood between Bentley and Sedgwick.

Murphy said detectives documented the layout of their former house and assembled other clues. He said they will later discuss their findings as well as other interview notes with a prosecutor to see whether they have a case.

Doug and Valerie Herrman have said Adam ran away after Valerie spanked him. They said they didn't report the disappearance because they feared it could have led to their other children being taken away.

Recently, Adam's non-biological sister alerted authorities to the case, which prompted the investigation.

Asked whether any charges are imminent in the case, Murphy said, "We're not at that point. I don't know that we're going to get to that point."

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