— The parents of Sierra LaMar, the California teen who's been missing since March 6, believe she did not run away — and are pleading for her return.
“Please find it in your heart to release her,’’ said Sierra's mother, Marlene LaMar, on TODAY Friday. “We love her so much. We ache for her and we are anxious to see her again.
“Sierra, if you’re out there, please be strong. I know you can survive this. You’re a strong individual, and you’re going to make it back to us.’’
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office found a purse and a backpack Sunday containing clothing belonging to the missing 15-year-old. LaMar, a sophomore at Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill, Calif., has not been seen since she left for school at 7:15 a.m. a week ago.
The items were found about two miles in the opposite direction from her bus stop — and a mile from where investigators recovered her undamaged cell phone on Saturday. The cell phone and clothes have not provided any clues, according to investigators.
Her parents don’t believe that the packed bag of clothing indicates she was trying to run away.
“I haven’t thought of that, but I know that frequently she would borrow clothes from her friends,’’ her mother said. “She would bring things to her friends to wear and borrow things that she really liked that they were wearing. She’s done that in the past quite a few times.’’
“There’s no reason why we would think she would pack a bag of clothes,’’ said Steve LaMar, Sierra’s father. “It’s baffling.’’
Investigators have not found any specific evidence signaling foul play, but LaMar’s parents believe she may have been abducted.
“As each day goes on, I just have this gut feeling that she’s not willfully choosing to be away,’’ her mother told Ann Curry through tears. “She loves her family, and she loves her friends. I just know that she wouldn’t intentionally be away.
“As each day goes on, my heart aches for her. I know she’s out there. I keep praying, and I know that she’s going to find her way back to us, and we’re all going to embrace her. We love her so much. We just want you back. We can’t wait to see you again.’’
In addition to school books, police found a T-shirt, pants and undergarments neatly folded in the recovered backpack, including a shirt investigators believe Sierra was wearing in a photo posted online the morning she disappeared.
“My gut’s saying, it was terrifying,’’ Marlene LaMar told NBC News. “I don’t know what to think.’’
On Thursday night, an FBI team combed LaMar’s house while dogs and volunteers scoured the nearby area, which contains several wide-open fields and dozens of abandoned buildings.
Local police are setting up road blocks in the area to question drivers, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told Friday.
“What we know is Sierra probably didn’t leave the (street),’’ Smith said. “No one sees her that morning. We wanted to rule out that any of the people here (on LaMar’s street) had anything to do with her disappearance.’’
Steve LaMar is a registered sex offender but has not been declared a person of interest or a suspect in his daughter’s disappearance, according to investigators. LaMar was charged with 12 felony counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts with three children under 14, none of whom was his daughter, in March 2009. He pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced in September 2009 to a year in jail.
He does not want his past to cloud the investigation.
“The only thing I’m going to say, as I stated I want the focus to be on Sierra and (we’ve) got to find Sierra,’’ he said. “I’m not a suspect or person of interest, so I just want that removed. We’ve been cooperating with authorities, and they’ve stated that also. I want that out of the way so that we can focus on finding Sierra.’’
“She had a very good relationship with the mom, the mom’s boyfriend and her biological father,’’ Santa Clara County Sgt. Jose Cardoza told reporters. “We have no information that would lead us to believe otherwise that there were other problems at home.’’
At a recent candlelight vigil, the family was joined by Mitzi Sanchez, who was kidnapped in 2000 in Vallejo, Calif., when she was eight years old while walking home from school. Two days after being abducted, she escaped from her leg shackles in the car of Curtis Dean Anderson, who was eventually caught. He died in prison in 2007.
“A lot of kids do get to come back home, and it could be her,’’ Sanchez told NBC News. “It’s not too often, but who’s to say that she can’t do it?’’
Anyone with information regarding her disappearance is urged to contact the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office at 408-299-2311.