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Dogged search finds nothing

Try as they might, they just couldn’t find her.

Four search dogs and their handlers spent their Veterans Day holiday Thursday trudging through dense underbrush and blackberry patches in a fruitless search for a missing Oak Harbor girl.

Elaine Sepulveda went missing early Nov. 6 and has not been seen since. This has led to not an Army, but a Navy of volunteers to look for her in and around the woods near her home.

It also brought out a group of volunteer search-and-rescue dogs to comb the approximately 100 acre area. A golden retriever, yellow lab, golden retriever mix and a Jack Russell terrier literally put their noses to the stone in the search effort.

Oak Harbor resident Mari St. Amand brought her 3-year-old terrier, Zoom, to the site out of a basic drive to help.

“It’s like, yeah, beating the bush isn’t the funnest, but you gotta go through the bushes so there’s closure,” St. Amand said.

She said she began volunteering with Zoom because he needed a release for his energy. St. Amand has been a volunteer with North Whidbey Fire and Rescue for more than nine years.

She said that she tries not to be stressed while looking for the missing person. She said she has yet to actually find a body, but her experience as an EMT would help her handle it.

“I’ve been able to find my own means of coping with it,” St. Amand said.

Volunteers have been coming out in force to find the girl, who is 15-years-old, nearly 5 feet tall and 115 to 130 pounds with brown hair and eyes. Oak Harbor Ross Wilhelm stopped at the command center to offer his services. Unfortunately the searching had nearly concluded for the day. He left his contact information with the detective and went home.

“I wanted to see if they needed any help,” Wilhelm said. “If this was my daughter, I would hope that somebody would do this for me. With any luck, she’s just gone off somewhere and she’ll see all the coverage and realize somebody out there is looking for her.”

During the week, groups of volunteers have searched in Snohomish, Skagit and King counties.

Oak Harbor Police Sgt. Jerry Baker said that the goal of Thursday’s search was to ensure that she was not in the woods.

Search Volunteer Edith Bryan stayed at the command center to operate the communications for the searchers. She said that the dogs were there not to find her, but to see if she’s not there.

“The point is to search the whole area so that we can say she’s not here,” Bryan said.

The area was broken up into 10 separate search grids. The teams searched each area twice to be certain Sepulveda was not there.

The chance to go out in the woods is an enjoyable experience for the dogs, Bryan said.

“The dogs love to work,” she said. “They’re well rewarded. It makes them happy to go out and do a job they do well.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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