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October 20. 2013 8:36PM

UPDATED: Vigil planned for Abigail Saturday in North Conway

CONWAY – A downtown vigil for Abigail Hernandez is planned for Saturday night at Schouler Park, and organizers are inviting those who care about the missing 15-year-old to attend with candles and flashlights. Authorities searching for Hernandez welcomed the vigil, but say they hope to find her before then.
 
The vigil is open to people from the region, not just those in Conway, where the missing teen was last seen walking home from school on Oct. 9, said Paul Kirsch, president of the White Mountain Milers, an area running club that counts Hernandez' mother, Zanya Hernandez, among its members.
 
Those attending are encouraged to bring flashlights and will be asked on a vigil walk to the nearby North Conway Country Club, returning back to Schouler Park "with flashlights lighting the way to symbolically help light the way home for Abby," Kirsch said.
 
"We're hoping to raise awareness about Abigail and to show her how much we miss her," he said.
 
That's all welcome news to authorities searching for Hernandez.
 
"That's great to hear, the community has been tremendous in this effort, and we support anything that can be done to continue to get the word out," said FBI Agent Kieran Ramsey, who is leading the bureau's part of the search.
 
Better news would be if Hernandez is found alive before Saturday night, so there wouldn't need to be a vigil.
 
"I can't emphasize enough or even put it in words how much we hope that is true," Ramsey said. "With all the resources we have in place here, we would hope that would be the case."
 
There were no new developments in the search Monday, Ramsey said.
 
Kirsch said the running club obtained permits Monday for the vigil, which will start at 6:30 p.m.
 
The running club has been literally trying to help find Hernandez since she disappeared. Club members participated in some of the initial police searches for her, and they have provided one of several web pages and Facebook pages raising money to help Zanya Hernandez as she is on unpaid leave from work at the county nursing home. Home members are also pitching in to help her get by, according to the home's director.
 
So far, the club has raised more than $2,900 to help Zanya Hernandez, who has another daughter who attends college. Authorities have not disclosed the location of her husband, Abigail's father, but relatives say he does not live at the family's home. Police say they have been in touch with him and he has cooperated with the investigation.
 
Town officials gave permits for the vigil Monday, Kirsch said.
 
Previous story follows:
CONWAY — Barbara Sampson and her friends pulled their SUV up to the Main Street parking spots Friday that have been full every day during a top-notch foliage season in this bustling community at the foot of Mount Washington.

As Sampson walked in front of the Olympia Sports store, a piece of white paper attached to a building post in front of the store was being blown about by a light breeze. It caught her attention.

"Oh, she so pretty, that's so sad," she said as she examined the flier, one of hundreds posted at almost every business in town, with a picture of 15-year-old Abigail Hernandez, and some wording asking for help in finding the teenager who has been missing since Oct. 9.

Sampson and her friends, all from Arvada, Colo., were in town to see the foliage. Though the town is passed its peak for foliage, "the leaves are beautiful!" she said.

Her gaze, though, kept returning to the flier.

"Her poor mother," she said, leaving the sign and returning to her friends. Laughing about their "narrow" parking space, they walked down the street, looking at the shops along the way, but still stopping at the "missing" posters.

"We're trying to do everything we can as a community to help, and the fliers are getting a lot of notice," said Jamie Proko, manager of the Olympia Sports store.

"Business has been great, we had a better foliage season than usual and we had more people here. The fliers have been drawing curiosity, which is what we want, of course, but there hasn't been any bad effects on our business from them. If anything, customers just ask a few more questions."

Hernandez was last seen on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 9.

An exhaustive search for her is being conducted by a state and federal law enforcement missing persons team. They've been out among businesses asking questions and looking for clues. A roadblock was set up on a main town road last Thursday by FBI teams, asking residents if they had seen Hernandez or any sign of her that day.

Almost two weeks since her disappearance, authorities say they have no evidence indicating what happened to Hernandez, so they are exhausting all avenues available to them, including posting "missing" signs in front of their business at the risk of bothering potential customers.

"It's not a problem posting them, this is important to our community," Proko said.

The FBI's Kieran Ramsey was pleased to hear the fliers were being seen. The police presence, which has been as much as 100 officers in town in recent days, should not interfere with the tourist business in town, as officers have "a small footprint" in town.

Ramsey said there was nothing to report in the search on Sunday.

Businesses may be actually doing better since the fliers went up, as visitors are seeing "a community response to this situation of all of us pulling together, and some of that is being seen and felt by our customers," said Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"The police have been very polite in speaking to our people," she said. "It hasn't affected businesses badly."

dseufert@newstote.com


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