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October 17. 2013 10:43PM

$20k reward offered to help find Abigail; police say she may not have made it home

CONWAY — Authorities announced a $20,000 reward Thursday for information leading to the return of Abigail Hernandez, to an arrest in her case, or for any other information that helps authorities find her.

"It's obviously our hope that our reward offer will generate new tips and leads," said Kieran L. Ramsey, an FBI special agent from Boston, in announcing the reward at a 4 p.m. news conference.

Senior Associate Attorney General Jane Young echoed Ramsey's comments.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, money is a motivator for people, and we will use every possible resource in trying to find Abby," Young said.

Hernandez was last seen leaving Kennett High School at about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9. Investigators said they have no information suggesting that she made it home that day. Initial reports that she had reached home were based on bad information, Young said.

At the news conference Thursday, investigators also announced that they will stop holding daily media briefings, and will announce briefings in the days ahead as information is ready to be released.

But the investigation has not slowed down and will not slow down "in the foreseeable future," Ramsey said.

Young and Ramsey said investigators still have many things to investigate, and the law enforcement presence, which has grown to as much as 100 officers from various agencies in the past week, will continue.

"Have we made progress? Yes," Ramsey said.

"Do we have her last location? No. Do we have a suspect in relation to her case? No. But we have a long checklist of things to do, and we have made significant progress on that checklist, and we have gathered some significant information."

Ramsey said the investigation into social media has been a part of the investigation, but investigators have found little to help on that front.

"We have here a 15-year-old who had a very active presence on social media, and that activity has gone totally dark," he said.

Investigators said there were unconfirmed reports that Hernandez was seen at about 3:30 p.m. that day walking along the North-Sound Road, which begins near the high school about two miles near her home.

Investigators said Hernandez' "previous after-school travel pattern" was to walk that road every day along that route to her home at 86 Village Way.

The last time she was heard from, authorities said, was when a boy identified by family members as Hernandez' boyfriend, Jimmy Campbell, received a text from her at 2:53 p.m. Investigators on Wednesday asked area residents and businesses to help find the girl's cell phone, a white iPhone in a pink case, which last made contact with a cell tower on Cranmore Mountain at 3:07 p.m. Oct 9.

That contact, Ramsey said, was not a phone call, but was likely the iPhone updating or sending some other data. The iPhone is known to frequently exchange data with a tower, he said, without any actions by its owner.

There were no further data exchanges between the phone and the tower after 3:07 p.m., Ramsey said Thursday.

"Was the phone powered off, or did the battery die, we're not sure," Ramsey said.

More searches were conducted Thursday, and there was a scaled-down version of Wednesday's police roadblock traffic stops on the North-South Road, with officers stopping a few cars along the road to ask drivers if they had seen anything involving the girl that Wednesday.

Searches will begin Friday, Ramsey said, in areas of town that have not been searched before.

The community, meanwhile, has come together to help find Hernandez and her family. That includes the "extended community" of Ossipee, where a resident of the county nursing home, the Mountain View Community, has made more than 300 yellow ribbons that say "Abby" on them and is giving them out, accepting donations.

Resident Susan Strauch, an expert embroiderer, has been making them all week, and donations toward them have brought more than $2,000 to help Zanya Hernandez, the missing teen's mother and a nurse at the home, meet her financial needs as the search continues, said the home's administrator, Howard Chandler.

Carroll County officials made an unusual move Thursday, Chandler said, by changing policy and allowing county employees to donate their vacation and sick time to Zanya Hernandez, who has been given leave during the crisis but cannot be paid by the county directly while she doesn't work.

Her co-workers at the home have donated enough of their sick time and vacation time to pay her salary for the foreseeable future, and Chandler sees that continuing.

"Our hope is that, given everything that family has had to deal with, Zanya doesn't have to worry about finances," he said. "We want to allow Zanya to have the choice when and how to return to work, so she doesn't have to make that decision out of financial need."

At the news conference Thursday, Zenya Hernandez issued another plea to her daughter, the second she has publicly issued.

"We're not giving up hope. Abby, we miss you," she said. "Stay strong, do not give up."

Anyone with information about her disappearance is asked to call the Conway Police Department at 356-5717, or the FBI tip line at 1-800-CALL FBI or leave information on line at tips.fbi.gov.

dseufert@newstote.com


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