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Blog: Searching for Sierra LaMar — Part 1 of 6

The Sierra LaMar Search Center is the closed down Burnett Elementary school, the base camp for the volunteers. Difficult searches will mean you will be in the most difficult elements of the area.

Sierra LaMar – Experiences From A Volunteer Member Of The Search Team

The following is part one of six that I have written regarding my experiences in the last several months as a volunteer member of the search team looking for Sierra LaMar. My goal is to keep the keep this story alive, motivate the current volunteers and new volunteers to continue the search efforts to bring Sierra LaMar home to her family and friends. David Darrough, San Jose California

PART 1 of 6  - The Sierra LaMar Search Center/Dealing With The Elements

The Sierra LaMar Search Center

My first experience at the Sierra LaMar Search Center was in early April when I was returning from Monterey having just competed in the 16-mile Sea Otter Mountain Bike Race. My plan was to visit the center for a few minutes and then return the following Saturday for my expected one-time volunteer effort to give back to the community and of course assist the LaMar family.

The Sierra LaMar Search Center is actually the closed down Burnett Elementary school which serves as an excellent base camp for the volunteers. Searches are conducted every Wednesday and Saturday. When I arrived the following week I was surprised to see how organized the Search Center was. The main building is where the teams are made up for the different assignments (easy, medium, strenuous).

Each team will then meet for 10-15 minutes for a pre-search brief to explain the details of the search that is being assigned. When the team members return they are debriefed on their findings which are fully documented. The Search Center is equipped with first aid supplies, bug and poison oak repellent, walking sticks, etc. There are all kinds of pictures and posters of Sierra, pictures of the volunteers, letters from the public and abduction notification posters of Sierra that people can take and post. There are also Sierra LaMar t-shirts and pins for sale in order to generate additional funds for all of the expenses. The cafeteria is always stocked with food, drinks and water which are all donated to the search center.

As of Aug. 16 it has been five months that Sierra LaMar, a 15-year-old Morgan Hill girl was abducted on the way to school from her home. As of the end of July the Klaas Foundation determined the search efforts from law enforcement agencies and countless dedicated volunteers have tallied up over 6,134 searchers on 556 search assignments and blanketed a 20-mile radius around Sierra’s home. The entire search efforts have expended 30,936 hours and fed and supplied the entire enterprise on primarily donated food and supplies. 

On my first day that I arrived at the Search Center I approached a man in the middle of the room who appeared like he had some kind of authority. I told him I was a new volunteer, he squinted his eyes and turned his head slightly and asked if I had any experience in doing something like this in the past, I said to myself, I think I am being sized up.

I replied, “Yes, kind of, I lost my daughter for 5 minutes in the mall.” He replied back to me,“This is not really what I was thinking about but that is ok.” I replied back to him, “Well, actually, I have been mountain biking in the Bay Area mountains for over 20 years, I am hiking Yosemite Half dome this summer for the fourth time and I have hunted all over California since I was 8 years old.”

His facial expression and body language completely changed, he approached me very closely and gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Do you see that table over there with seven people sitting at it? I need you to be their team leader and take them on a search. They are city people therefore you really need to be careful and keep them together since they are not used to the outdoors and you need to make sure all seven come back. Can you do this?” I somewhat reluctantly said yes and we were all promptly escorted to a briefing room for our assignment.

Dealing With The Elements

My one-time volunteer effort is now beyond 15 and I no longer keep track of the number of times I have left donuts in the kitchen for my two daughters prior to departing to the LaMar Search Center on Saturdays.  There are several other volunteers that I think have not missed any Wednesday or Saturday searches since the searches stared in mid-March.

I always sign up for the more difficult searches which means there is a good chance you will be exposed to just about all of the difficult elements of the area such as poison oak, heat, homeless camps, rattlesnakes, skunks, small marijuana gardens, tics with Lyme disease, garbage, filthy water in creeks, wild berry bushes with thorns, pollen, friendly and unfriendly dogs and tiny thorns that require a magnifying glass to remove them.

Poison oak thrives in this area to the point where they grow as poison oak trees. We will often come to an area that has to be searched and it is nothing but a poison oak wall. We just bow our heads down and make a slight grin and just head into it. They give us a wet wipe solution to dissipate the poison oak oils but it is not very effective on me. Before I get dressed I have to wipe my body completely with this solution. I have had poison oak so many times in the last three months that my pharmacist has recently informed me that I am now getting immune to the prescription medication that I have been taking.

She said, “We need to either change the medication or better yet you need to stop going into the poison oak." I replied, “Staying out of the poison oak is not really an option based the circumstances at hand but thank you very much for your suggestion”.

The area of Morgan Hill has been searched to the point the volunteers are sometimes walking unintentionally onto marijuana farms. Law enforcement officials are now getting concerned about the safety of volunteers and recently conducted a safety meeting at the center. In late June a man was shot in the arm and later arrested during a raid of illegal marijuana grow near Mount Madonna County Park, Santa Cruz Mountains.

Stay tuned for part 2 of 6 Wednesday afternoon.

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