ESCONDIDO: Missing teen's family pushes forward six months later

Six months after Amber Dubois disappeared, pictures of the bookish, blue-eyed 14-year-old are still posted across Escondido and across Southern California.

Banners reading "Help Us Find Amber" still line fences along North Broadway near Escondido High School. Her name is still part of the family's answering machine greeting at their home, just a few blocks from the campus.

Amber was last seen Feb. 13 walking to school. No trace of how or why she disappeared has been found.

Her family, despite a tortured spring and summer of searches that turned up nothing, has not given up hope. It recently hired a new private investigator and will fly in specialized search dogs from Maine later this month.

This week, Amber's mother and father, Carrie McGonigle and Moe Dubois, traveled to New York City for a national media blitz. Her mother and father desperately hope the larger stage, including interviews on network TV shows, will make the difference in a case that has frustrated and puzzled police and left a gaping hole in the family's heart.

"All it takes is one person to crack this case open," the teen's father said. "All it takes is one pair of eyes."

Missing Amber

The door to Amber's bedroom is kept open inside the family's two-story north Escondido home. The teen's black and gray cat, Robin, often slumbers on Amber's bunk bed.

Her watercolor paintings of wolves (she adores wolves), her "Twilight" movie poster and vast array of books, including her Harry Potter collection, remain as she left them.

"I usually have panic attacks when I come up here," said McGonigle, standing in her daughter's small room, her voice breaking.

Amber's mother moved out of the home six weeks after the teen disappeared, in part, she said, because the reminders of what she's lost are all around. She now lives with a friend just a few blocks away.

McGonigle's former boyfriend, David Cave, and the couple's 6-year-old daughter, Allison, remain at the home. Amber's father lives in Orange County.

Family and the teen's close friends describe Amber as a model student, a girl who was looking forward to raising a baby lamb through her school's agriculture program and who never once spoke of running away.

Her parents are convinced she was abducted by a stranger. Police, without evidence to prove either theory, have classified Amber's disappearance as a "suspicious missing person" case.

Sheila Welch, the teen's maternal grandmother, has paid for public relations help for the family and recently hired Lawrence Olmstead, a Los Angeles-based private detective. Olmstead follows San Diego-based private investigator Bill Garcia, who worked for the family early on. Welch emphasized the new investigator's work is meant to complement, not compete with, local police efforts.

Welch, an attorney who lives in Paramount, north of Long Beach, also has spent months arranging for the specialized search hounds from VK9 Scent Specific Search Recovery of Brewer, Maine. The company's canines can track a scent months after a person has disappeared, Welch said.

The grandmother, who family say inspired Amber's love for animals and reading, said she'll "never stop" looking for her granddaughter.

Case remains a mystery

Escondido police have received and investigated more than 1,100 tips in the case. They've interviewed more than 550 people, including Amber's family, friends, neighbors, sex offenders who live near the family's Escondido home and every classmate she had this past spring and fall, said Lt. Bob Benton. More than two dozen police investigators and support staff worked on the girl's case shortly after she vanished. Three full-time investigators are still assigned to it, he said.

After all their work, however, they still have no idea what happened to the shy and sheltered girl.

"We all wake up in the middle of the night just pondering, 'What did we miss?'" Benton said. "That takes a toll on us."

In most missing-person investigations, police have something to start with ---- the description of a suspect or perhaps a car involved. With Amber's, they have next to nothing.

Police are still not sure whether the driver of a maroon pickup seen on school surveillance video was involved in Amber's disappearance. The truck was seen exiting the school's maintenance yard at roughly the same time Amber was spotted walking nearby.

"In this case, we're just going down dead end after dead end," said the lieutenant, flanked by more than a dozen thick binders containing interview transcripts, photographs and other original case documents. "It's been so frustrating."

Police do not have any suspects, nor have they ruled anyone out, including family members.

Amber's parents say they want police to explore all possibilities.

"At this point, they're not looking at us as possible suspects," Amber's father said. "If something points in that direction (toward a family member), I would want them to look there."

Amber's father, mother and the mother's longtime boyfriend all voluntarily took polygraph tests shortly after the teen vanished.

Escondido police have worked with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, investigators with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, contacted law enforcement in Canada (Amber has extended family in Montreal), Mexico and across the globe.

"It's been an important case for all of us," said Escondido police Investigator Beverly Marquez. "We want to find this girl and bring her home."

Marquez serves as a liaison between the family and the department. In her 15 years working missing-person cases, she said couldn't recall one as involved as Amber's or with so few clues.

She said that Amber's case will remain open as long as it takes.

"She's not home yet ---- it's an active case," the investigator said.

Family's anguish

The pain surrounding Amber's loss never truly subsides, family members say.

Amber's father still has not been able to resume his job at Netcom Technologies, where he's a senior estimator for the company. Her mother just returned to work last month at a local printing company, she said.

When despair hits, it's often a phone call from one of the committed volunteers that lifts them, they say. Many of the volunteers started as strangers and have become the family's closest supporters.

Outside observers say Amber's mother and father have worked diligently to find their daughter.

"I'm incredibly impressed by Moe and Carrie," said Marc Klaas, whose daughter, Polly, was kidnapped and murdered in Northern California in 1993. "As long as they can continue to be proactive and as long as they can continue to be busy, I think they can hold the fear at bay."

Klaas, through his Klaas Kids Foundation, has supported the family's efforts.

When asked why they keep searching, family members say they can't imagine doing anything else.

They want the girl who loved to collect seashells on the beach, who made her mother breakfast on Mother's Day, who would hide under the covers of her bed with a book and flashlight and read late into the night, back home.

"I know that someone out there knows something," said Amber's mother. "And I would just beg them to call anonymously. No one needs to know who they are."

Call staff writer Chris Nichols at 760-740-5426.

More about Amber

Missing: Thursday marks six months since Amber Leeanne Dubois, 14, was last seen. Two witnesses spotted her at about 7:10 a.m. on Feb. 13, walking on North Broadway on her way to Escondido High School. Family members believe Amber was abducted by a stranger and would not have run away. Police have classified her as a missing-person case, saying they do not have evidence to prove whether she left voluntarily or not.

At the time of her disappearance, Amber was 5 feet 5 inches tall, 130 pounds with blue eyes and brown hair.

Reward: Amber's family has offered a $50,000 reward for her safe return and a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a possible kidnapper. Escondido police have requested, through the governor's office, that an additional $40,000 be added for information leading to Amber's whereabouts.

Contact authorities: Anyone with information about the case is urged to call Escondido police at 760-743-TIPS or 911.

More information: Additional news about the search for the missing teen is at www.BringAmberHome.com.

Amber's story will be featured at 4 p.m. Thursday on the cable TV show "Issues" on HLN, hosted by Jane Velez-Mitchell. It will also be shown on "America's Most Wanted," at 9 p.m. Saturday on Fox.

Thursday night vigil: Amber's family plans a cross-country vigil for the teen at 8 p.m. PDT at locations in New York City, in Anaheim Hills at Hillsborough Private School, and in Escondido in front of Escondido High School on North Broadway.

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