JEFFERSON CITY — The Cole County Sheriff's Department announced late Thursday it would widen the search for a missing St. Martins girl after one day of combing local woods turned up nothing.
Cole County Sheriff Greg White said local law enforcement would work in an expanded search area tomorrow morning as part of a continued effort to locate 9-year-old Elizabeth K. Olten, who disappeared Wednesday night. The original area of interest has been searched thoroughly at least two times by nearly 300 volunteers, White said.
Olten left a friend's home along the 600 block of Route D in St. Martins to walk to her home less than a quarter of a mile away. She had been missing for less than 45 minutes when her disappearance was reported at 6:56 p.m Wednesday.
According to the Cole County Sheriff's Office, Olten is white, 5 feet 2 inches, 102 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a pink scarf, pink shirt and sweater, blue jeans and white sneakers.
White could not comment on the Olten family's state of mind at this time, but said, "I'm a daddy. If my child was missing, I would be struggling."
One of Elizabeth's family members, however, did speak out Thursday.
As she sobbed before a small gathering of volunteers, community members and reporters, Elizabeth's aunt, Vicki Olten, pleaded with the community to help.
"I want my niece home," Vicki Olten said. "I want her safe."
Although law enforcement officials said they had no evidence foul play led to Elizabeth's disappearance, Vicki Olten suspects her niece was kidnapped.
"She would not have just wandered off," she said.
An Amber Alert cannot be issued unless officials rule that Elizabeth was abducted.
White said law enforcement officials have already conducted a "tremendous amount" of interviews but that there are no persons of interest at this time.
Lt. Jim Keathley of the Missouri Highway Patrol said officials were also conducting interviews of drivers at a roadblock near where Elizabeth was last seen in a continued search for leads.
"We were all hoping this would be over by now," Keathley said.
White said officials will turn their focus to investigating leads in the case. He encourages parties with information on the disappearance of Elizabeth Olten to call the tip line set up by the Cole County Sheriff's Department at 866-362-6422.
— Missourian reporter Matt Pearce contributed to this report