Estate Grove Place girl, 4, missing
Published: March 14, 2013
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ST. CROIX - More than 100 law enforcement officers, military personnel and first-responders swarmed the Estate Grove Place residential area Wednesday afternoon in hopes of locating a missing 4-year-old girl, but as of press time, she still was unaccounted for.
V.I. Police said Melanie Terra Ferguson wandered away from her home on Bastian Road, on the northern side of the community, and last was seen by a family member some time after 9 a.m. playing in the area with her two small brown Chihuahuas.
Melanie weighs between 30 and 40 pounds and is 3 feet tall. Her brown hair was braided into corn rows to her neck. She has brown eyes and was wearing black leggings and a multicolored shirt with thin straps and she was not wearing any shoes on when she disappeared, according to police.
Police said Wednesday night that they planned to resume the search for the girl about 5:30 a.m. today.
Shortly after 6 p.m. as the sun began to make its descent, Acting St. Croix Police Chief James Parris gathered the dozens of personnel, thanked them for their efforts so far and dismissed all but a few officers. He said the terrain is too rough and the bush too thick to keep the search parties out without creating a greater risk of injury.
Parris said Wednesday afternoon that though the girl had last been seen hours earlier, family members did not notify police until 12:17 p.m. and said they had been looking for her during that time. When police were notified, four police units responded to the scene to launch an initial investigation and search the area and the number of law enforcement personnel quickly grew, Parris said.
Bohlke International Airways aided searchers with a fixed-wing aircraft and the V.I. National Guard provided a helicopter, which both conducted aerial searches into the afternoon, according to Parris.
Sam Ramos, construction manager at Innovative, provided the search commanders with a detailed map of the area, which police used as a reference point in plotting out their search patterns.
"We have had officers canvas the area talking to residents, searching the bushes and other areas around the house, but we have not found any sign of the girl or her dogs," Parris said.
Relatives said Melanie is a talkative little girl but tends to be very shy around strangers.
The news of the missing girl spread primarily through the Grove Place area and yielded response from about a dozen residents.
Susan Richardson was out in the area with her two cousins and small children trying to help with the search.
"I have small children, and I would want people out here helping to find them if they were missing," she said. "We are all just hoping for the best and wanted to help."
Colleen Francis Carter, a member of the Grove Place Action Committee, was one among a group of five people who joined Dwayne Fergus on an all-terrain vehicle, driving up into the deep bush in hopes of finding Melanie.
"We have a close community here, and we just want to be of assistance. It could have been any of our children," she said.
Carter said the team scoured the bushes, guts, valleys and steep terrain that was familiar to the girl and her siblings.
"Her brother and sister took us to a trail and an area where she had been found the last time she wandered away, but we found no sign," she said.
As the search efforts continued, criminal investigators worked other angles of the case, including talking to family members and questioning known sexual offenders in the area about the missing girl.
Many residents found out about the missing girl following a 5 p.m. radio broadcast and through a few missing person's posters that circulated on social media.
Parris said he spoke to someone at the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency about sending out a notification on V.I. Alert, but nothing was sent on the mass public information system.
VITEMA Director Elton Lewis said his agency acts as a coordinating agency in times of emergency, and he was asked only to coordinate the helicopter from the National Guard.
Sending out the V.I. Alert would be the function of the Police Department's public information officer, according to Lewis.
"Each PIO has the training and credentials to send a V.I. Alert for any emergency as it pertains to their agency, and at this point we have more than 12,000 subscribers who would have gotten that alert," Lewis said. "They have the capability to issue a missing child alert and even attach a picture so that residents would be notified quickly about the situation."
V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said she issued an Amber Alert through the Center for Missing and Exploited Children but did not issue a V.I. Alert. Regarding how the Amber Alert would work to notify residents across the territory of the situation, Rames said she was not sure.
Parris asked residents to share Melanie's picture and her description and to contact police with any information they may see or hear.
Anyone with information can call detectives at 778-2211, 712-6037 or 911.
- Contact Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com