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Published: Friday, 6/22/2007

1,800 hunt for missing Ohio woman

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Volunteers help search fields, woods, and neighborhoods for Jessie Davis, who disappeared from her home last week.
Volunteers help search fields, woods, and neighborhoods for Jessie Davis, who disappeared from her home last week.
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UNIONTOWN, Ohio Uniontown resident John McCleaster watched a long line of people sweep across the lawns of Lancer Street.

There were scores of people, walking carefully, maintaining slightly more than an arm s length between them, as they moved through his quiet neighborhood, searching.

They were some of the more than 1,800 people who came to Lake Township in Stark County to look for Jessie Davis. Ms. Davis, 26, was last heard from June 13, when she spoke to her mother on the phone. Two days later, her mother stopped by the young woman s duplex and found her grandson there alone, and the house disheveled. Ms. Davis is 9-months pregnant.

But after a long day of searching, police and volunteers had turned up nothing more than a patch of marijuana.

We covered a tremendous amount of area, said Tim Miller, the director of EquuSearch, a Dickenson, Texas, group that brought sonar equipment and a remote-control airplane equipped with camera to assist. Handling this many volunteers was a challenge all its own, he said.

Davis Davis
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It was difficult, but we did it. We stayed organized. We got a chart there with a chain of command and it worked out. But you never become a pro at this. You don t want to, he said.

Team leaders were told to look for tire tracks, debris, or other things that appear out of the ordinary. Mr. Miller also instructed that if a body was found, the leaders should stay with it.

I m hopeful we can find her alive, he said. If not, the second best thing we can do is be back here next week for a funeral.

Some volunteers brought their dogs or children. People signing up to help at a fire station formed a line about two football fields long along a sidewalk.

We re probably looking at somewhat of a miracle in this case, Mr. Miller said. We also know if that person is deceased out there, it s very important we find them as quickly as we can find them so they can determine cause of death.

As helicopters buzzed overhead, police inspected a plot where loose dirt was discovered earlier in the day. Two cadaver dogs from Summit County were nosing the area. Earlier in the day, other dogs had apparently reacted to the spot, Capt. Gary Shankle of the Stark County Sheriff s Office said. But the Summit County dogs were unimpressed, Captain Shankle said, and instead police found marijuana plants growing.

Earlier, Whitney Davis, the missing woman s younger sister, said she was amazed by the crowd of volunteers. She wore a T-shirt with her sister s picture and the word Missing in red letters. I think we re going to find her, she said.

Rewards totaling $15,000 are being offered for information leading to Ms. Davis whereabouts. Although law enforcement officers searched the home of Ms. Davis boyfriend Bobby Cutts, Jr., on Wednesday, Mr. Cutts, a Canton police officer, was not arrested. Mr. Cutts was put on leave during the probe.

His mother, Renee Horne, told the (Canton) Repository that agents were looking for Ms. Davis cell phone and a quilt missing from her home.

Ms. Horne said FBI agents questioned her son twice Wednesday, and read him his Miranda rights during the second interview. Investigators also took Mr. Cutts two cell phones, she said.

Over on Essex Street, where Ms. Davis lived with her son, Blake, a steady steam of cars made the neighborhood lively. Last night, a small mound of flowers and stuffed toys decorated the porch of Ms. Davis duplex. This is a shady, green neighborhood with culverts lining narrow streets.

Around the corner from Ms. Davis home, Mr. McCleaster sat on his front porch, carving wooden figures.

I do this to relax, but it s hard to relax here lately, he said. The FBI had questioned him the day before, he said. They d gone up and down the street, talking to all the neighbors. Mr. McCleaster had little to tell. He had never seen the young woman. Still, her disappearance upset him.

While volunteers thronged the Uniontown Fire Department, the 63-year-old man began a search of his own, taking the trails he used to use as boy, looking through an old brick yard, walking around a tree farm.

There were so many places to look. I didn t realize there were that many places to look, he said. Three hours later, he was exhausted, his shoes and trousers soaked from tramping through wet vegetation.

I have never hiked that long, he said. It s sad.

He plans to go out again today. I feel sorry for these people, he said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact Jenni Laidman at:jenni@theblade.comor 419-724-6507.



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