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Hundreds gather in search for missing MUHS student
MIDDLEBURY — More than 200 tiny lights bravely flickered through a frigid twilight breeze that coursed through the Middlebury Town Green on Sunday evening. Each tiny candlelight was fiercely shielded by a brave soul who wished they could provide similar safety and comfort to one of their own — 17-year-old Middlebury resident Rebecca Ball, whose whereabouts remain unknown since she was last spotted in Wright Park during the afternoon of Wednesday, March 29.
Sunday night’s vigil was largely an opportunity for the community to share their angst and a common goal of finding Ball — a Middlebury Union High School senior — safe and sound. Those sentiments were beautifully synthesized in a brief address by the Rev. Paul V. Olsson of St. Stephen’s.
“It’s amazing to see so many of you here because you care so much for this young woman,” Olsson told the crowd from his makeshift pulpit, a granite slab fronting Triangle Park.
Olsson aptly hailed the candles as a symbolic curse of the darkness and a way to shine light on ongoing efforts to find Ball.
“We hold up (this) light in sure and certain hope and wish we could see Rebecca safe and sound and warm and sheltered again, with her family and her friends and all who love her,” he said. “More than anything, our hope this evening is that she be returned safely to her home. Her father, Daniel Ball and her mother, Jeanne Fair, want to thank all of you who have been so vigilant searching and showing support to them as well.”
Olsson called Ball “a special person,” who joined the St. Stephen’s flock around two months ago.
“We have been slowly getting to know her,” he said. “We are hoping against all hope today, that all of this will be a positive resolution and that she might be brought home safely.”
Becky’s mom, Jeanne Fair, noted that Becky doesn’t like large crowds, loud noises or uniforms; she does like animals (when they aren’t loud). She responds better to women than to men, Fair pointed out.
Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley summarized the latest on Rebecca in a Monday morning email exchange with the Independent. He noted she left a Counseling Service of Addison County appointment during the afternoon of Wednesday, March 29, leaving her jacket, cell phone and water bottle behind. She was reported missing about an hour and a half later, triggering a search of Wright Park that evening by MPD officers, according to Hanley.
Vermont State Police back country search and rescue and a tracking dog joined the search on Thursday, March 30. Authorities are concerned about how Rebecca has been dealing with recent cold weather, and if she might be trying to evade detection.
“As far as we can determine, she has no access to protective clothing, food or water and has not been administered prescribed medication in six days,” Hanley said.
Ball is described as 5 feet, four inches tall and around 105 pounds. She has blue eyes and short, light-brown hair. She was last seen last seen wearing a red plaid shirt, a green plaid necktie, skinny dark pants and brown boots.
Search teams continued their efforts through Saturday, April 1, without luck. Those participating included officials from the VSP Search and Rescue Team, Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, New England K-9 Search and Rescue, and the Upper Valley Wilderness Response Team.
Recent efforts have included both ground-based activities and unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to assess areas from the air, Hanley said.
“These efforts have been supplemented by volunteers from the community,” he added
The aforementioned ground searches by state officials ended on Saturday after three days of sweeps from the entry to Wright Park north to Huntington Falls; west, along a north-south line to areas west of the water tower in Weybridge; and areas of the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) along Morgan Horse Farm Road, including the Otter Creek Gorge preserve to Huntington Falls.
“They searched east into the Exchange Street industrial park and north through Riverbend campground to Huntington Falls,” Hanley added.
Officials have also been probing what Hanley called possible “areas of refuge,” including buses, containers and other structures — some of them within the TAM surrounding MUHS and Middlebury Union Middle School.
“Other than her last reported sighting in Wright Park about 0.5 to 0.75 of a mile north of the Wright Park entrance by a walker, there has been no evidence of her presence found,” Hanley said. “The search team reported footwear impressions near the northern exit to the park that may be similar to the footwear she was wearing.”
Here’s the latest on the search from the state police, issued April 1:
“The investigation into the circumstances of this matter remains ongoing by MPD, and there will be limited continued search efforts going forward. While there is not a plan to deploy specially trained crews tomorrow, they remain available to assist as needed.”
Local residents are encouraged to continue to check inside any outbuildings and vehicles on their properties. Anyone who makes a possible sighting of Ball or has information on her whereabouts is asked to call the Middlebury Police Department at 802-388-3191 or the Vermont State Police New Haven barracks at 802-388-4919, or leave an anonymous tip on VSP’s website at vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit.
AT THE VIGIL
Sunday’s vigil offered Rebecca’s supporters a chance to compare notes, comfort one another and rededicate themselves to finding her.
Among those present was MUHS Principal Caitlin Steele. She said the school’s Crisis Team has been meeting regularly to consider how best to support students and staff amid the frustration, sadness, concern and other emotions that Rebecca’s disappearance has instilled in those who know and love her.
“A lot of care and love is being expressed,” Steele said. “This school community is strong.”
Faith Scaramucci is a special educator at MUHS; and Rebecca Ball is one of her students. She described Ball as a compassionate, kind and fun-loving person, as well as a voracious reader who fancies a cup of mint tea (with honey) while studying.
“She has a wonderful spirit,” Scaramucci said with a smile. “She has this great laugh.”
Like others, Scaramucci confidently speaks of Ball in the present tense, not allowing herself to imagine the worst. And she offered insights into Ball’s hopes and dreams that suggest she has long-term aspirations.
“She keeps saying, ‘I want to travel the world someday,’” Scaramucci recalled. “Her thing right now, like with a lot of seniors, is she can’t wait to (graduate).”
Alyssa Warren, an MUHS freshman, is one of Ball’s good friends. She’s surprised by Ball’s disappearance and said a general sense of shock has permeated the student body.
Ball is an easy person to like, according to Warren.
“She’s very caring, funny and thoughtful,” Warren said, adding playfully, “and she’s also a feisty girl.”
Dora Soberal is an organizer of volunteer search efforts for Ball. Those searches have occurred daily from around 8 a.m. to around 9 p.m. Current volunteer search efforts are being staged from MALT’s Belden Falls hiking trail entrance in New Haven, according to Soberal.
“We have not given up hope, but we need help to do more grid searches,” she told the crowd. “MPD is still working side-by-side with us, even though our teams have shrunk.”
Like Hanley, Soberal urged Middlebury-area residents to search any outbuildings, children’s forts or other structures on their property where someone might seek refuge from the cold.
“If you find anything you think is pertinent, go ahead and mark it… so people know not to disturb it,” she said. “Then pass that information along to MPD.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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