Body found may be missing W.Va. girl's

September 21, 1997



Staff Writers

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A two-day search for 7-year-old Jessica L. Newell appeared to have ended tragically Saturday evening after passersby found a body authorities believed might have been that of the missing girl.

A body fitting the description of Jessica was found at 6 p.m. within 20 miles of the bowling alley where the girl was last seen, said FBI agent Richard M. Mosquera, special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh Division.

"It was divine intervention that her body was found," Mosquera said.

The body was found off Boyd's Gap Road atop North Mountain five miles west of Martinsburg, he said.

Authorities would not speculate on cause of death.

Mosquera said authorities had not determined how long the body had been at the location when it was found.

The people who found the body were not part of the search party that had been scouring the area for Jessica, who had been reported missing at 8:15 p.m. Thursday. The youngster disappeared from Pikeside Bowl, on U.S. 11 south of Martinsburg, where she had gone with her parents, Debbie and David Newell of Baker Heights.


Jessica had been on her way to the bowling alley's game room, and was last seen at the front door waiting for an uncle who was bringing some baseball cards, according to West Virginia State Police.

Her disappearance launched a massive search that included more than 50 FBI agents, local police, family members and volunteers.

Authorities used helicopters and bloodhounds in the search that continued throughout Friday night and Saturday.

Authorities studied a security tape from the bowling alley, but turned up nothing helpful, Mosquera said.

The video camera takes pictures of the pool room, the main parking lot and a side parking lot.

Agents went to the bowling alley several times Saturday to interview staff and people who might have been there Thursday night.

"It was a league night and we know everybody,'' said assistant manager Darlene Forsyth. "A stranger would stand out.''

Flyers with pictures of Jessica holding a teddy bear were plastered on the front door of the bowling alley and other place of business in Berkeley County on Saturday.

Into the early hours of Saturday, the Martinsburg barracks remained a beehive of activity, with troopers and detectives going in and out.

Other troopers stood by in the parking lot of Pikeside Bowl while search dogs combed the area behind the popular bowling alley and billiard hall.

All day Saturday, police searched on the ground, interviewing neighbors along U.S. 11 near Pikeside Bowl and flying overhead in helicopters.

Jessica, a second-grade student at Berkeley Heights Elementary School, was 4 feet tall, 60 pounds, with blonde hair that flowed midway down her back. She was wearing a red and pink flowered one-piece dress when she disappeared Thursday.

The father of an 8-year-old himself, Mosquera said he kept seeing his daughter's face as the search for Jessica continued.

"It's gut-wrenching, it's just so tragic to see," said Mosquera. "You've got a lot of dedicated people here. This little girl could have been anybody's little girl."

About six FBI agents, notebooks in hand, were at the bowling alley late Saturday interviewing bowlers. At one point, agents appeared to confer with each other and then left the bowling alley.

Kimberly VanMetre, 34, of Martinsburg, said she bowled regularly with Jessica's parents.

She said news that a body had been found was announced at the bowling alley.

"I was hoping that wasn't true," she said.

"She's a very sweet girl," she said of Jessica. "I don't understand why anyone would do what they did."

VanMetre said Jessica recently had invited some of her friends to the house to show them her new school clothes.

"She was just a kid you'd always want," she said.

The Herald-Mail Articles