N.Y. community unites in search for missing girl 12-year-old has been gone 2 weeks


LITCHFIELD, N.Y. -- Two weeks ago Sara Ann Wood set out on a short bike ride, a mile-long trip between her home and the church here where her father, Robert, is lay pastor. She never got there.

Police found her pink-and-white mountain bike in a ditch, and some papers that she was carrying spread nearby. For five and a half days, New York state troopers and volunteer firefighters searched the woods and cornfields around this town about six miles from Utica, N.Y.

Though that search was suspended, law-enforcement officials and townspeople have not relaxed other efforts to find out what happened. The latest development: a $100,000 award offered yesterday by a group of concerned citizens.

The Rev. Paul Drobin, of St. John the Evangelist Church in nearby New Hartford, announced the reward fund at a news conference on behalf of a group of contributors who wished to remain anonymous.

The new reward is for information leading directly to the safe return of the 12-year-old girl, said Trooper Jim Simpson, a state police spokesman. He said it was separate from another reward fund that has grown to almost $40,000 established for information about Sara's whereabouts.

State police set up 17 checkpoints on Wednesday, using 175 officers from various law-enforcement agencies to gather more information for a case that is generating few concrete leads. The police are assuming they are dealing with an abduction, but they do not even know that for sure.

Maj. C. Allen Pylman, commander of the troop leading the investigation, said troopers stopped more than 100,000 cars at checkpoints within a radius of 8 to 10 miles of the church in Litchfield yesterday providing investigators with a "substantial number of new leads" whose value can be assessed only with time.

"We're stirring up the haystacks so the police can get clues," said Ed Grove, a Utica businessman and volunteer director of the rescue center.

Mr. Grove, a longtime friend of the Wood family, harnessed the power of volunteers and communications to get the word out about Sara's disappearance.

"In a week's time, we have 1,500,000 fliers," he said. "We now have fliers in every state, and Canada, and several countries. We've hit Italy, France, Germany, Korea and Japan."

All of this has been accomplished with donated money, supplies and labor.

"Sara has captivated people to the point where they've adopted her," Robert Wood said. "They want her back too."

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