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Mariah Woods missing: FBI tests "items of interest" in search for N.C. girl, 3

Search continues for missing 3-year-old

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -- Additional resources have been called in to aid in the search for a missing North Carolina 3-year-old as the FBI tests "items of interest" in the case, officials said Thursday.

Mariah Woods was reported missing from her Jacksonville, N.C., home about 6 a.m. Monday. Her mother, Kristy Woods, told WITN-TV in Greenville that she last saw Mariah about 11 p.m. Sunday when she checked on her.  She said her boyfriend saw the child about midnight when she got up and he told her to go back to bed. Once they realized she was missing, the couple said they called authorities.

A statewide Amber Alert was issued for the girl and federal, local and state authorities have been combing the area. Boats and crews on horseback were called in Thursday to aid in the search being conducted by foot, by air and with canines, Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller said at a Thursday press briefing.

Miller asked for citizen volunteers to participate in an organized search scheduled for Friday morning, which will mark the effort's fifth day. Officials said they expect to expand the search area and asked for volunteers physically able to navigate rough terrain.

Local and federal authorities have been tight-lipped on details pertaining to the investigation. Miller hasn't said how he believes the child went missing, but said investigators aren't ruling out any possibilities, including that she was abducted or wandered off.  

"As a father and a grandfather, I'm looking at a little 3-year-old girl and I'm emotional about this," Miller said. "We want to find Mariah and bring her back."  

FBI supervisory special agent Stanley Meador said "items of interest" in the case were being tested at the FBI lab in Quantico, Va. and that the lab test results would be prioritized.  He would not say what the items were, where they were recovered or whether they were found in the child's home.

Meador said the tests would determine whether the items have anything of evidentiary value that may lead investigators to the girl. He said investigators are aiming to speak with all of the girl's neighbors in order to help solidify a timeline of the disappearance.

Family members said there was no sign of forced entry or anything wrong with Mariah's room but did say the back door was unlocked, reported CBS affiliate WNCT. Family members said the girl has an orthopedic leg problem, causing her left leg to wobble as she walks. Mariah's grandmother said due to her granddaughter's walking issues, she can't imagine her wandering off.

The family also said Mariah would not have left with a stranger.

Miller wouldn't address Wednesday whether anyone in the family was suspected in the disappearance.  Meador said Thursday the family is cooperating with the investigation. The FBI has asked for anyone who had contact with the family on Sunday or Monday to contact authorities.

The girl's biological father, Alex Woods, who does not live with the child or her mother, told WCTI-TV in New Bern Tuesday he did not believe his daughter was abducted. Woods said he is also the father of Mariah's two brothers, who were in the home when the girl disappeared.

Woods, who said he has been involved in custody issues with Kristy Woods, his ex-wife, and has not seen the child in about a year, said he doesn't believe her explanation of what happened.

"Someone just walked right up in there, grabbed the 3-year-old out of the bed and she didn't cry, she didn't scream?" Woods Tuesday. "Nobody heard anything? Four people in the house, two adults and two kids, someone just comes up and snatches the baby and walks out?"

Mom’s emotional plea after North Carolina toddler vanishes

Alex Woods told WCTI he and his wife have fought for custody of the children because they believed there was abuse in the home. Miller on Thursday wouldn't address a reporter's question asking about the allegations.

A spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services couldn't tell Crimesider whether the agency has had any previous contact with the family. The information is confidential per state law, he said.

Kristy Woods on Tuesday issued an emotional plea for the girl's return.

"Please, bring her back," Kristy Woods said earlier Tuesday, as reported by CBS affiliate WNCT. "I love her. I'll do anything that I can, whatever you want. Please just bring her back safe and sound – she's my baby, she's my everything."