Search ends before it began

The weekend-long search for 15-year-old Elaine Sepulveda, who disappeared Nov. 6, 2004, got called off when Oak Harbor police found out where Elaine’s body lay.

The search, which family members and friends had organized, along with the Laura Recovery Center and the Klaas Kid’s Foundation, was going to take place from Friday, Jan. 14 through Sunday, Jan. 16. Many members of the community, local churches and friends volunteered to assist with the search efforts.

Thursday, Jan. 13, search organizers, those leading search groups, members of the search foundations and Elaine’s family met to discuss the search schedule and administration in the evening. That night at about midnight, however, information as to where Elaine’s body was buried made the weekend search unnecessary.

On Friday morning, volunteers arrived ready to search. When search leaders told volunteers that the search was no longer necessary and police had found Elaine, relief, somberness and sadness mingled with questions about the case.

Bob Walcutt, executive director for the Laura Recovery Center Foundation in Texas, thanked some of the volunteers for coming out to assist in the search and shared what little information he knew about the body recovery.

“We’ve been working with the family almost since she disappeared, since Elaine disappeared. And then her mother called up last week and asked if we would come out and help search,” he said.

Walcutt said his crew and that of the Klaas Kids’ Foundation brought volunteer forms, briefing materials and mapping supplies. They had planned to stay for about a week.

“I have to check and see if I can get ahold of the airline and see if I can leave earlier or not,” he said.

As far as the search, Walcutt said it doesn’t matter that the search never took place.

“It’s terrible that this happened, but her family — if she was not found, if Elaine was not found then it would never end.” Walcutt said. “It is not a good ending, but it is a way for the family to have closure.”

Lt. Ryan Hays, who had volunteered as one of the search group leaders, said all the family and search organizations had a briefing meeting the night before for all the group leaders. So, he had prepared himself for the job ahead. Now, however, all he can do is offer his support to those packing up the search materials.

Steven Mickelsen, husband to the spokeswoman for Elaine’s family, said, however, it is community members willing to help and prayer that will help the Jimenez family get through this.

“Faith is a great tool and asset to help get them through this,” he said.

Mickelsen said he can’t imagine what it would feel like to receive the information the Jimenez family received that night about Elaine, or what Mary and Juan Jimenez will tell their younger daughters.

“I think they’ll just let them know that God needed her to be with him. That He’s got very big plans for her and needed her to be with him sooner,” he said.

As Mickelsen thanked a volunteer for coming, she told him her daughter, who attends Oak Harbor High School, asked her to help search. As she left, she told him the Jimenez family is in her prayers. Mickelsen thanked her again for the family.

“Praying was a big help,” he said.

“And just coming here and giving your support, that’s all you can do. That is all anyone can do.”

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