9-Year-Old Vanishes; Fears Mount

A nationwide missing child alert has been issued for a 9-year old Florida girl who, authorities say, vanished from her bedroom and may be in danger.

Jessica Lunsford was last seen by her grandparents, before she went to bed Wednesday night.

Fog was hampering early morning search efforts in the woods around her home in rural Homosassa, Fla., some 70 miles north of Tampa, according to Sheriff Jeffrey Dawsy of the Citrus County (Fla.) Sheriff's Department.

He explains to The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm that the third-grader lives with her grandparents and father.

Her grandparents say they put her to bed after she came home from a church function, and her father went out with a friend.

The father tells authorities he got back "early Thursday morning, a little before 6, we believe about 5:45," Dawsy said to Storm. "He came in that morning, unlocked the back door, as he normally does when he's out of the house. He went to check on her and she was not there. …He checked the residence and could not locate her, then moved to the grandparents and asked where his daughter was. And the child was not in the residence."

Storm noted Lunsford's father and grandfather were questioned for quite awhile Thursday. She asked Dawsy if the father is under suspicion.

"No," Dawsy responded. "We're just trying to work backwards. The grandparents were the last ones to see this child. We're just trying to validate the story. It's a very emotionally charged case. We just want to lock in some stories and then we want to lock in the dad's story, so we have a direction to go. This is a very unique case on how the child left the home."

He says a woman Lunsford's father was with confirms the father's report of where he was that night.

Dawsy called locating Lunsford's mother "a problem. She is not an integral part of Jessica's life. We had one address (for Lunsford's mother) up in Ohio. The FBI went out there. There was nobody at the home. They're trying to track down a forwarding address and we're trying to track down some leads out there in the state of Ohio."

Do investigators think Lunsford is with her mother, Storm inquired.

"We're not going to iron that out until I get some contact from the mom," Dawsy answered. "That's always a possibility. We had different scenarios working with different investigators taking the lead."

Asked pointblank if Lunsford might be in danger, Dawsy said simply, "Yes."

  • Brian Dakss

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