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Missing girl found after hours of searching

June 22, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

Part of the time police were looking for 7-year-old Kimberly Andrea Thomas on Wednesday, she was camped out in Ralph Lattisaw's house around the corner.

But, no one - especially her mother and her mother's girlfriend - knew that, so a search went on for about 4 1/2 hours.

At 6 p.m., a boy ran around the corner toward Kimberly's home on Pope Avenue in Hagerstown's South End, yelling, "They found her! They found her!"

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Kimberly's mother and her mother's girlfriend hurried to meet her. Their dog, Cookie, followed.

"Why would you leave like that?" said Lea, the girlfriend, as she cradled Kimberly in her arms. Wearing a yellow-green top and red-checked pajama bottoms that were too big for her, Kimberly simply clutched a bag of Teddy Grahams and stared. Her mother, Sheena, burst into grateful tears.

Lea - who declined to give her last name or Sheena's - said they had an argument upstairs in their home Wednesday afternoon. As that happened, Kimberly, who attends Bester Elementary School, wandered off, out the back door, with no shoes on.

The women briefly looked for her before someone called police. More and more officers arrived, some with search dogs. At least one Maryland State Police helicopter flew overhead.

Many other people joined in - people who knew nothing about Lea or Sheena other than that they were missing a girl.

Mothers of other Bester students gathered with their children in the school's parking lot about 5 p.m. One girl held a flier with a picture of Kimberly in her hand.

Dorothy Atha said police called her home as part of a neighborhood-watch alert.

"They just asked to search our backyards and to keep our eyes open," Atha said.

Dodie Green, whose daughter just finished first grade, planned to go home and change clothes before walking the railroad tracks.

"I grew up around here, so I know a little more about where the kids go that ain't on the streets ..." Green said. "This is just so scary. That little girl is the same age as my little girl."

Lea said she, Sheena and Kimberly moved to Hagerstown from Queens, N.Y., in February, and Kimberly hasn't had a chance to make friends.

Around the corner on First Street, Lattisaw got home a little before 6 p.m. He noticed that his daughter, Ashley, had left the door open.

Apparently, Kimberly noticed, too, because she was inside.

Lattisaw said he remembered the flier he got on Jonathan Street of a missing girl. He retrieved the flier, showed it to the girl in his home and asked, "Is this you?"

He said she replied, "Yes, but don't tell anyone. I'll get in trouble."

As an officer took Kimberly and Sheena to the police station to talk to them, neighbors and strangers drove past for updates.

Now, Lea was able to share good news.

"Thank God! Thank you, Jesus!" one driver called out.

Lea also thanked God, as well as everyone who helped or prayed for Kimberly's return.

Lea, who is black, said she at first heard Hagerstown was racist and experienced some problems when she moved here, but she doesn't believe it now. She said almost every stranger who searched for Kimberly was white.

"Everybody came together because there was a kid missing," she said.

Staff writer Karen Hanna contributed to this story.

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