After conducting a series of intensive searches Monday in north Joplin, authorities said their efforts came up empty but would resume Tuesday morning.
Fourteen-year-old Leora Hardee was last seen in the area of D Street and North Wall Avenue more than a week ago.
Fifty to 60 officers, deputies and agents from the FBI, Jasper County Sheriff’s Department, Joplin Police Department, Carthage Police Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children met Monday morning to review three main geographic areas in which searches would be carried out on foot throughout the day.
At 4:30 p.m. Monday, Joplin police Capt. William Davis said there was nothing new to report but that search efforts would continue at the same three locations Tuesday.
One area is centered northeast of Ozark Christian College. A second area broadens the search west of Main Street. The third area includes the mine tailings area formerly known as Snowball along North Schifferdecker Avenue.
“We worked with NCMEC (the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), who flew in an expert to help us with setting up search areas and areas that would be best to start out at,” Davis said. “Based upon his recommendations, this is where the searches will take place.”
Because Leora’s neighborhood has already been canvassed, the next step is to broaden the search area, Davis said.
“We believe the canvassing was around 600 residences,” he said. “Now, they’re focusing on a heavily wooded area. They’re searching for any clues that can help investigators.”
The Jasper County Sheriff’s Posse, an equestrian group that assists the sheriff's department certain ways, was searching Monday in the Snowball area.
“If we find clues or anything of particular interest, we may put some drones in the air,” Davis said. “At this point, it’s going to be a foot search. Unless something develops, if we get a lead that takes us somewhere else, we’ll shift focus, if the time comes.”
Search dogs have also been used. Gateway Search Dogs, of St. Louis, provided canines to assist emergency management agencies in the search for Leora. The nonprofit search-and-rescue organization helps locate lost or missing people. A piece of Leora’s clothing was given to the dogs to help identify her scent.
The girl's grandmother, Vicki Cunningham, released a video statement through Joplin police on Sunday night in an effort to contact her.
“We’re just reaching out to you today just to let you know how much we love you and how much we miss you,” Cunningham said in the video. “Are you safe? Are you warm? Are you hungry? These are the things that are running through our minds right now. And if you can just answer those questions for us, that’s all we can hope for or ask for. Thank you, honey, and I miss your face.”
Leora is described as being about 5 feet, 1 inch tall, and weighing 100 pounds, with glasses and sandy brown hair. She may be in need of medications, police said.
The area where she was last seen, D Street and North Wall Avenue, is encompassed by the neighborhood where she lives, police said. She is a Joplin High School student, although because of the high school's current pandemic-related split attendance schedule, Hardee was not supposed to be at school, and was not at school, on the day she disappeared, Davis said.
The Joplin Police Department is being assisted by the FBI, the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, the Webb City Police Department, the Carthage Police Department and the Jasper County prosecuting attorney’s office.
Police said they are asking anyone who has information related to Leora's whereabouts or the investigation to contact the Joplin Police Department. Any tips or information can be directed to Capt. Nick Jimenez at 417-623-3131, ext. 636, or email@example.com; or Detective Sgt. Luke Stahl at 417-623-3131, ext. 885, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Joplin Police Department received a missing person report filed for Leora Hardee on Sept. 17. Police said Leora was last seen at 10 a.m. that day by her mother, Leta Hardee. When the mother returned home at about 4:30 p.m., she reported her missing at that time, police said.