Volunteers walk Spicket River looking for missing teen

March 14, 2011

Volunteers walk Spicket River looking for missing teen

By Jill Harmacinski jharmacinski@eagletribune.com 
 
METHUEN - It was a bittersweet morning yesterday as 65 volunteers, many unpaid Methuen police officers, gathered to search for Brynne Kurmas, a 15-year-old girl who snuck out of her group home Tuesday and hasn't been seen since.
"It is a sad day that we have to do this. But it shows we are a wonderful community...Thank you all for coming out on a Sunday morning," said Mayor William Manzi before the group headed out to search the river yesterday. The search lasted about three hours.
A backpack was found, but its unclear if it belongs to Kurmas. The location of the bag in the quick running river made it impossible for police to grab it yesterday.
As early as today, divers could be in the water, retrieving the backpack and trying to find anything else connected to the missing teen who was living at St. Ann's home on Haverhill Street. Police believe the teen broke a screen and escaped through a window at the home on Tuesday.
Then, flip flops and eyeglasses believed to belong to Kurmas were found Thursday on a bench near a footbridge over the 20-foot high Spicket Falls Dam. The discovery sparked fears the teenager, who has a medical condition, had fallen or jumped into the Spicket River.
The teen was last seen wearing a black tank top, black pants, a black and white sweater and white flip flops. She is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 152 pounds, according to police alerts.
Kurmas is in the custody of the state's Department of Children and Family services, which works with St. Ann's home.
Since Kurmas was reported missing, police have been monitoring her e-mail and social networking sites. However, there has been no recent activity, Police Chief Joseph Solomon said.
"There has been no electronic footprint," Solomon said. Yet, there is hope Kurmas could be found alive and unharmed.
"There is always a possibility ... There is always that hope," Solomon said.
Searchers yesterday were split into 14 teams of 4 or 5 people. Each team was given a section of the river to search. Capt. Randy Haggar urged the teams to take their time. If they found anything the least bit suspicious, they were to notify the team leader who would contact him.
"We just want to put the family at ease," Haggar told the volunteers, which included police, Methuen residents on the city's Citizens Emergency Response Team and staffers from St. Ann's Home and School where Kurmas lived.
John Santoro, a police officer and the city's emergency management director, told the group to use extreme caution, noting the riverbanks would be muddy and slippery.
A state police helicopter hovered over the search area and a mobile command unit, a Winnebago with police equipment, set up behind the Methuen Memorial Music Hall. Members of the Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council staffed the command center, including James Trombly, IT director for the city of Woburn, Richard Landers of the Concord Police Department and Jamie Mondalto, a 911 dispatcher from the town of Danvers.
Using specialized equipment, the mobile command unit was able to link computers in the state police helicopters. This gave officials in the command center a virtual view on the Spicket River search, Solomon noted.
While running high and fast, the river water was also a murky black and difficult to see through yesterday, when the weather was cloudy. Currently, the river is at a very high level due to snow melt and rain early last week. A sunny day may have provided searchers with a better view through the water, officials said.
Police officers on ATVs also checked the railroad tracks that run nearby the river, Haggar said.
Haggar said a search of the river will continue, not only to recover the back pack, but also in other areas where debris was found and there were areas of thick vegetation that were difficult to search. Small watercraft, including canoes and kayaks, will be used to search the river.
"We are going to continue our efforts. Our searches will be ongoing until all avenues are exhausted," Haggar said.
Residents who come across anything suspicious in and along the river should notify police immediately. Do not touch the items, as it could be evidence, Haggar said.
The teen's disappearance has also struck a chord with local parents. Robin Guzelian, a local mom, said she took it upon herself to search the area near the falls and behind the music hall.
"Nothing bothers me more then to see children so lost in this crazy world of ours," said Guzelian.
A police investigation into Kurmas' disappearance has revealed the teen left St. Ann's on two occasions previously but returned a short time later. St. Ann's offers day programs and residential services to emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children.
Some children are allowed to come and go from the home. However, Kurmas was not allowed to leave unsupervised, said Dennis Grandbois, St. Ann's president and CEO.

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