March 13, 2013 EditionAlso in this issue...
A Walnut Ridge man is dead and his 14-year-old stepdaughter is missing, sending shockwaves through the community.
Sidney Nicole Randall was last seen by her mother, Denise Cornell, on Saturday night at 10 p.m. She said when she awoke in the middle of the night both her daughter and her husband, John Cornell, were gone.
"My first thought was maybe she had gotten sick and he had taken her to the hospital," Denise said. "I called and they said no one had been in there, so I called 911." She said shortly after, her husband returned to the home.
"When he pulled up I thought there they are," she said. "But when I walked out, he asked me what I was doing up. I said Sidney's gone."
She said he acted like he did not believe her and then said he was going to the police station.
"I told him I had already called 911 and they were on the way. He drove off and that was the last time I saw him."
As time passed and neither Sidney or John returned, law enforcement officials began to suspect that John had taken her. Information was disseminated, including their photos and a photo of his truck, as well as his license plate number for John's truck, listing him as wanted for questioning in Sidney's disappearance.
Officials received a call on Monday stating that a truck matching the description of John's pickup had been spotted off County Road 438 in Old Walnut Ridge. Officers responded and found John's body near the truck.
Walnut Ridge Police Chief Richy Thatcher said the truck had pulled down the Running Water Ditch bank and that Cornell's body was found about 100 to 200 yards north of the truck. His death appears to be from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the gun was recovered at the scene.
Arkansas State Police issued a level 2 Amber Alert for Sidney after her stepfather's body was discovered. Thatcher said a level 2 alert means that they have reason to believe that the child could be in danger.
County Road 438 was closed, and a search party, including canine units, combed the area where the body was found.
Sheriff Jody Dotson said law enforcement personnel and search and rescue teams have also searched in other areas of the county as leads have come in.
In addition to every agency within the county, the Arkansas State Police and FBI are also assisting with the case. The Manila Police Department has assisted and other search and rescue teams have come in to help.
Dotson said surrounding counties, such as Jackson, Poinsett and Sharp, are also conducting searches in their counties, especially in places where John was known to go.
Thatcher said that John did not have a violent criminal history and the only thing on his record was a misdemeanor marijuana charge in the early '90s.
In addition to Sidney, Denise has a son, Ben Randall, 17, who plans to enter the military soon, and the Cornells have a son, Zachary, 10.
Denise said the support from the community has been incredible, especially the support from the friends of her children.
"All the kids have been wonderful," she said.
A candlelight vigil was held Monday night at Beatles Park in downtown Walnut Ridge with hundreds in attendance. Another vigil is planned for tonight at 5 p.m. at Sexton Field on the Walnut Ridge School campus.
"I appreciate all the prayers and the support," she said. "I want to say a special thanks to all Sidney's friends and all the students."
Angee Jones and Lana Mullins, who both have children who go to school with Sidney, are coordinating efforts to help the family with financial needs, as well as collecting items such as paper products and coordinating food for meals.
Anyone who would like to make a contribution or help in some way can contact Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 870-679-0164.
While at this time there are no formal search parties for civilians, the public can still be of great assistance in the search.
Chief Thatcher said they are asking everyone to check their own property.
"We need any property owners, especially those in Eastern Lawrence County to check everything," he said. "Once it has been searched, they can call dispatch and report that it's been cleared."
He said search crews have been searching several different areas, but that they have found nothing so far and have no solid leads on where she might be."
Sidney's uncle, Tim Randall of Cherokee Village, echoed Thatcher's request. He asked people to search any vacant homes they may own, farmers to search farmland, hunters and fishermen to search where they hunt and fish.
"If you've got property or permission to be on property, search it," he said. In addition to all the agencies working to find Sidney, family and friends are also chasing down every lead they get. They ask anyone who sees or thinks of anything to report it.
"Even if you don't think that you know something, you might," Denise said.
Tim said there were no signs of a struggle and there is evidence that John might have been stocking up on food, so they are hopeful that he might have taken her somewhere and left her.
Denise said the family had enjoyed a good night together on Saturday.
"It was a regular, ordinary Saturday night," she said. "I keep going back to that night thinking what could I have missed."