NO SIGN FOUND OF MISSING GIRL `I BET SHE'S REALLY SCARED RIGHT NOW,' MOM SAYS
Orlando Sentinel; Orlando, Fla.
Nov 28, 1998
By Kathryn Quigley, of The Sentinel Staff
CLERMONT - The timid little blonde playing by herself on the worn- out playground caught the eye of Clermont Police Officer Norris Fails many times. Fails knew the first-grader by sight - barely 4 feet tall and usually alone on the beat-up swings. He always waved at her, but she would look away. She never waved back.
Now, Fails is out to find her. Six-year-old Kayla McKean disappeared Thanksgiving Day outside the apartments at 804 Grand Highway where she lives with her father and stepmother.
Fails was the first officer to arrive, and he didn't need much of a description before he identified her: the painfully shy one.
Kayla went out to play about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, and she was gone an hour later. Her father, Richard Adams, and his wife, Marcie, searched until noon before they sought help.
"They should have called us earlier," Fails said. "The more I think about it, the more I think we would have found her by now.,p> "The longer the time goes by, the worse it looks."
The girl's mother, however, said she thinks her "stubborn" little daughter will be found. Elizabeth McKean's voice quavered and her eyes brimmed with tears as she answered questions about the youngster who recently lost a front tooth and loves to play in the park.
"I bet she's really scared right now," said McKean, who has not seen her daughter in a month because of disagreements with Adams. "I just want to find her."
Law enforcement officers from Clermont, Lake County and Orange County joined forces with 250 volunteers on foot, dirt bike, all- terrain vehicle, car and horseback on Friday to search four square miles for Kayla.
Two helicopters from the Lake County Sheriff's Office whirred overhead all day, stopping every two hours to refuel and rest. Divers searched Jacks Lake.
Officers knocked on neighbors' doors, looked inside washing machines, dryers, car trunks and freezers, and even searched a moving van, hoping for a trace of the little girl.
They questioned known sex offenders in the south Lake area and even searched some of their houses.
But there was no sign of the Minneola Elementary student who has a speech problem that makes her sound like a toddler.
The volunteers fanned out an arm's length apart, carrying water bottles and walking sticks, as they searched along Grand Highway, the nearby North Ridge subdivision and several fields.
The would-be rescuers trudged along, poking at bushes, peering through the grass, digging through flowerbeds for even the smallest clue.
Susan Daugherty of Clermont was covered in water and mud to her thighs after spending the day tramping through a swamp on the edge of Jacks Lake.
"The morale is upbeat," Daugherty said. "But you can tell that everyone is starting to get scared. I know I sure am."
By nightfall Friday, no trace of Kayla was found, and volunteers were told to go home.
The search is expected to resume today at 7:30 a.m., and the Sheriff's Office is seeking volunteers to meet at the command center on Grand Highway off State Road 50.
Lake County Sheriff George Knupp said investigators theorize that Kayla wandered away or she was kidnapped by a stranger. Or she could have met with foul play - at the hands of someone she knows.
"Nothing is ruled out," Knupp said. "Everything is in."
Bloodhounds on Thursday tracked Kayla from the apartments to a nearby field and paved parking lot, where they lost the scent. That leads investigators to suspect Kayla may have been whisked away by someone in a car, said sheriff's Capt. Mark Palmer.
Searchers at one point Friday pulled a child's denim shorts and a pink top from a trash bin. But Kayla's father and stepmother said they weren't Kayla's, though she was last seen wearing similar shorts, a purple T-shirt and white sneakers. Knupp said experts at the FDLE's crime lab would test the clothing anyway.
Adams and his wife stayed inside their apartment with their infant on Friday, talking to investigators and keeping to themselves.
The child's mother was never married to Adams, who has been arrested three times in Seminole County on charges of violating probation from an earlier burglary case. McKean said in her statement late Friday that she and Adams had been fighting over custody of Kayla.
McKean said she hasn't seen Kayla since Halloween, when she and Adams had a falling-out. The little girl had been staying with her father in Clermont for the past several months. McKean lives in Casselberry in Seminole County.
McKean clutched a photo of Kayla as she stood outside the apartments and thanked the hundreds of volunteers late Friday who turned out to search for her daughter.
The complex houses 142 apartments, most with redwood terraces and plants and furniture on patios.
Palmer said investigators went door-to-door to question neighbors and asked them to fill out forms inquiring about suspicious people or cars in the complex.
Three friends of Kayla's told deputies they saw the driver of a big white van with tinted windows watching them as the van passed slowly on Wednesday. Maegen Spina, 11, Jaime Lombardo, 12, and Cortney Lombardo, 11, said Kayla had been playing with them but had gone home by the time the man cruised by.
All day, along Grand Highway and all over this town of nearly 8,000, Kayla was the topic. Posters with her picture were taped to the door of virtually every business.
"Can you tell me, did they find her yet?" a woman yelled from her car. Kayla was still missing, she was told.
"Oh no," the woman said, shaking her head.
Ashley Terrell, 12, who was visiting an aunt in Clermont, spent part of Friday afternoon standing by the side of the road, handing out fliers with Kayla's picture on them.
"It makes you feel bad," Ashley said. "There could be a little 6- year-old girl out here crying."
Kayla's disappearance comes just three weeks after 8-year-old Maddie Clifton vanished while chipping golf balls with children in her Jacksonville neighborhood.
Maddie's body was found Nov. 10, entombed inside the waterbed of a 14-year-old boy who lived across the street from her home. She had been stabbed at least nine times and struck in the head.
Joshua Earl Patrick Phillips has pleaded not guilty to first- degree murder in Maddie's death.
The most recent child kidnapping in Lake County ended May 12, 1987, when a fisherman found the body of Teresa Mae McAbee floating on Knight Lake, less than a mile from her Mascotte home.
The 11-year-old girl was found 11 hours after a Mascotte police officer reported seeing her at a nearby convenience store and telling her to go home.
That officer, James Duckett, was later arrested and convicted of first-degree murder. He is awaiting execution on death row and is fighting to have his conviction overturned.