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Published: Friday, 7/25/2003

Toledo FBI office seeks help finding children's graves

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Authorities who have been looking for Sarah and Philip Gehring for two weeks asked for the public's help yesterday.

And they expanded the area where they think the children's bodies might be buried to 10 miles on either side of the Ohio Turnpike from Pennsylvania to Indiana.

Jim DeLong, the agent in charge of the Toledo FBI office, released a detailed description of the children's purported burial site, and urged the public to “go over in their own mind” whether they ever visited an area matching the description.

Sarah, 14, and Philip, 11, were last seen with their father, Manuel Gehring, 44, in New Hampshire on July 4. Mr. Gehring was arrested July 10 in San Jose, Calif., after taking a trip across the country.

The children are believed to be buried somewhere along Mr. Gehring's cross-country route.

On July 12, the FBI's Toledo office received “credible information” that the children may have been buried along or near the turnpike, Mr. DeLong said.

He declined to identify the source of the information.

But he said his office knows for a fact that:

At 10:22 a.m. July 5, Mr. Gehring stopped at a Wal-Mart in Grove City, Pa., with his children in a 1998 light-blue Pontiac Transport van. It is not certain whether the children were alive.

At 11:37 a.m. July 6, Mr. Gehring stopped at a Citgo gas station in Joliet, Ill. The children were no longer in his van.

Between those two points, Mr. Gehring was known to have traveled along I-80. For that reason, authorities are focusing their search along I-80 between Grove City and Joliet - and are unable to narrow the focus any further. “Our information isn't that specific,” said Jeff Strelzin, lead prosecutor of the New Hampshire Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, whose office is coordinating the interstate search.

“We don't have any state-specific information. [The burial site] could be as much as 10 miles from I-80, and we believe they were buried sometime in the afternoon,” Mr. Strelzin said.

Investigators involved in the case have released the following about the probable burial site:

After exiting westbound I-80, make a right turn at the end of the exit onto a two-lane paved roadway.

After an unknown number of miles, make another right turn onto another two-lane road, with a yellow line down the middle.

The area is described as “rural,” with grass about three feet high, green at the bottom, and tan with seeds on top next to the road.

To the right off this roadway is an opening in the grass. There is a downhill slope from the roadway, then an uphill slope to the opening, where the grass is matted down.

The suspected burial site is about 50 feet from the road.

Around the site are:

Five to six hollow cement cylinders, four feet in diameter, and three to four feet high with rubbish inside.

A line of wire fence, six feet high, with a rectangular or square pattern.

A mound of white/gray rocks, about three feet in diameter, similar to rocks used in drainage applications.

An old-fashioned, lever-operated water pump with a chrome/silver body and a green top and lever.

An irregularly shaped cement slab, four to five feet across and three to four inches thick, lying flat on the ground.

Several very large trees, similar to willow trees, but with broader, darker leaves.

An embankment with soil that has eroded.

A pile of firewood that is gray and weathered.

A large yellow or tan building within view.

Mr. DeLong said he was unable to comment on how his office had obtained the information, citing regulations.

When asked why authorities chose to withhold a description of the site from the public for nearly two weeks, Mr. Strelzin said: “We had our reasons - we needed to try and conduct that search ourselves. When you look at your options, you hope your people will find the children as opposed to someone else.”

But lately, Mr. Strelzin said, “circumstances have changed. After considering other courses of action, we decided to seek information through the public.”

He declined further comment.

On July 12-13, members of the Lucas County Sheriff's Office and the Ohio Highway Patrol searched an area three miles north and south of I-80, from Sandusky to the Indiana border, with a Life Flight helicopter in conjunction with the ground units.

Though the area was covered twice, the search turned up no results.

“We are not engaged in any specific site searches right now,” sheriff's Lt. David Atkinson said. “We're waiting for additional leads to come in.”

In Manchester, N.H. yesterday, Mr. Gehring pleaded innocent to charges of murdering the youngsters.

He was arraigned on two counts of first-degree murder. He said nothing and looked down as his two public defenders entered the pleas for him.

“He's sad,” defense attorney Jacalyn Colburn said outside the courthouse yesterday. “These are children he loved and he was devoted to.”

Mr. Gehring was held without bail.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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