PICKETT, TN—The search for area fourth-grader Allison Means, who disappeared Friday evening, has entered its fourth boring day, volunteers and law-enforcement officials said Monday.
"We've been combing the woods and meadows near her home for four days now," Byrdstown County Sheriff Thomas Heubel said. "The same woods and meadows—combing and more combing. With the possible exception of her parents, no one wants to find this girl more than we do."
Daniel and Karen Means contacted Heubel after their daughter didn't return from Sather Elementary School Friday afternoon. By nightfall, nearly four dozen initially eager locals volunteered to assist in the search.
"The first day or two was okay, I guess," said Clay Watts, a nearby resident who has been participating in the search since Saturday morning. "But now it's been four days, and she still hasn't turned up. The cops arrange us in these straight, long lines, and we advance 10 feet at a time. This goes on for hours. I've never been so bored in my life. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored."
Mail carrier Tonia Stelson came forward Saturday to report that she had seen the girl at approximately 4 p.m. on Friday, about a quarter of a mile from the Means' house.
"I've shown about 50 different people exactly where I saw Allison," Stelson said. "How many times can I point to the same stretch of dirt? It's like, what part of 'I think maybe she was wearing a red coat' don't you understand?"
Searchers continue to search within a 20-mile radius of the Means' home, in an area comprising fallow farmland, tall grass, and scrub woodland. Wearied volunteers said they are as frustrated by the unremarkable landscape as they are by the dearth of leads.
"I've lived here all my life, but you really don't realize how dull the area is until you've participated in a search for a missing 9-year-old," volunteer Shirley Snow said. "It's a shame there are no gently rolling hills or picturesque windmills around here—you know, something pleasing to the eye. Besides that ugly abandoned farmhouse, which we've been through six times already, there's nothing."
Watts and his party of eight searchers have swept several open fields, an intensely dull process that has yielded only burrs, brambles, and insect bites.
"I know we've been through this area before," Watts said. "I remember that dogwood tree over there with the Coors can in its branches. Why are they deliberately sending us through the same area multiple times? Just to annoy us?"
In spite of the tedious searching, called off only during the darkest hours, not a single clue to Means' whereabouts has been found. Searchers haven't found footprints, scraps of clothing, or anything that might be just a tiny bit interesting, nor have police received any phone tips or substantial informant leads. The lack of progress has only heightened the searchers' frustration.
Hopes and interest rose briefly Sunday evening, when a search team found a decaying body near an apple orchard. The corpse, however, proved to be that of a small deer.
"I have to admit, when they announced it was an animal, a few people groaned in disappointment," volunteer Drena Biddle said. "It would have been a shame if we'd found Allison in that state, but at least the search would be over."
"Oh, look!" Watts said. "There's that Coors can again."
Sheriff's deputies dredged a pond two miles away from the Means' house Monday, in a long and tedious process that yielded three glass insulators.
"You used to see them on telephone poles," Sheriff's Deputy Dean Howarth said. "See the old Bell Telephone logo molded on them? Maybe some workers were doing work around here and threw them in the pond, just to get rid of them. You think so? Hey, I'm just trying to make conversation here."
Their frustration mounting, volunteers have begun to rebel against the rules laid out by search-party organizers.
"I'll help out tomorrow, but only if I can bring my Walkman," Watts said. "These damn cicadas are driving me crazy. And I don't care if there are women present—I'm not tromping all the way back up to Kickapoo Gas just to piss. It's part of life."
"Why wasn't I assigned to search near Shoptowne Mall?" Snow said. "Look, it's upsetting that Allison hasn't been found, and I believe in community spirit and everything. But the bottom line is, I never knew the girl. After searching for three straight days with only four hours of sleep each night—look, she's dead. Let's go home."
Heubel said he has notified state police of Means' disappearance, and that the FBI will soon join the search.
"Federal agents are professionally trained to deal with intensely tedious situations like this one," Heubel said.
"Plus, the FBI has considerable manpower they can send out to tromp around in the woods, which will finally free me up to go back to my new bumper-pool table."