‘America’s Most Wanted’ joins search for Sierra

Missing 15-year-old teen Sierra LaMar

One of the country’s best-known crime fighters and victims’ advocates hopes to find Sierra LaMar by bringing prolonged national attention to the teen who remains missing after six weeks.

And while television crews from John Walsh’s “America’s Most Wanted” were in Morgan Hill this week shooting for the upcoming episode that will feature the missing 15-year-old, local residents remain steadfast in their efforts to find her and raise money for the Sierra LaMar Fund.

The AMW episode featuring Sierra is scheduled to air 9 p.m. May 11 on Lifetime, according to producer Jocelyn Sigue. The subject of missing children is one that’s “dear” to Walsh, the show’s host and creator whose own son Adam Walsh was abducted and murdered in 1981.

“He has stood in the shoes of the parents,” Sigue said while her crew shot scenes of the field near Sierra’s north Morgan Hill where her cell phone was found by investigators the day after she was reported missing.

Sierra’s father, Steve LaMar, flew to Los Angeles to shoot an interview with Walsh earlier this week. On Wednesday, Sigue and her crew filmed an interview with Sierra’s mother, Marlene LaMar, at her home near Palm and Dougherty avenues.

Steve LaMar, 49, said Walsh asked “good questions” during their interview. Naturally, he shares Walsh’s desire to get Sierra’s story heard by as many ears across country as possible.

“They have a pretty good success rate finding missing persons,” LaMar said. “One example is Elizabeth Smart. A tip was called in after someone saw her story on the show.”

Smart was kidnapped at the age of 14 in 2002 in Utah, and found nine months later still being held captive by her kidnappers.

“We’re trying to keep Sierra’s story out there, and visible to people so they know she’s still missing and we’re still trying to find her,” LaMar said.

The AMW crew also spent part of the week covering the KlaasKids volunteer-staffed search center at Burnett Elementary School. And on Thursday, the crew had an interview scheduled with Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.

“The fact that we can give this national attention, that may help find her,” Sigue said. “Whether or not the person (who kidnapped Sierra) stayed in this area, there still may be clues that could help find her” in unexpected places outside the Bay Area.

Sierra has been missing since March 16, when she didn’t show up at her usual school bus stop near Palm and Dougherty avenues, just down the street from her home. Sierra typically walks to the bus stop, but police think she was abducted just outside her home.

The only evidence reportedly found so far is Sierra’s cell phone, which was located by investigators near Scheller Avenue and Santa Teresa Boulevard; and her purse with some of her clothing which were found a couple miles north near Santa Teresa and Laguna Avenue.

While AMW is mostly known for spotlighting and hunting down fugitives from the law and claims to have helped find more than 1,000 such criminals, it has also helped find dozens of missing people, Sigue explained.

“We keep the story alive. If it’s not solved, we’ll come back and remind the public that Sierra is out there,” Sigue said.

Local residents, most of whom don’t even know Sierra, seem unlikely to forget any time soon as well. Returning volunteers still crowd the KlaasKids search center at Burnett Elementary.

Before lunchtime Wednesday, about 135 people volunteered to participate in searches through remote areas throughout South County, according to volunteer Isela Sabala of Morgan Hill.

The search center has transformed considerably since the KlaasKids Foundation conducted its first search March 27, from the bleak-looking cafeteria of a closed school, to a hive of fundraising, donation drop-offs and search instruction, decorated with hundreds of hand-made posters in honor of Sierra and bustling with news crews and volunteers.

A table near the front door displays piles of T-shirts with Sierra’s picture printed on the front, selling for $10 each; and jewelry for sale made by hand by volunteer Lisa Silva of Morgan Hill, whose daughter is a classmate of Sierra’s at Sobrato High School and a cheer teammate of hers.

Proceeds of those sales go the Sierra LaMar Fund, which contributes to the nonprofit search efforts and could eventually augment the existing reward of $10,000 for Sierra’s safe return.

And a portion of the proceeds of a May 5 fundraiser for orphans’ services at Guglielmo Winery will go to the fund as well. That event will feature a silent auction, raffle, music, food and wine.

Some of the volunteers who have been involved in the effort since day one, drawn to the search for Sierra by the empathy gained from tragedies they have suffered in their pasts, have already become “lifetime friends,” according to Mary Kamakani of Gilroy.

Kamakani lost her husband to a fatal shooting by police in Los Angeles in 1997. Shortly after she started volunteering for the search for Sierra about three weeks ago, she met fellow volunteer Emma Spencer of San Jose, whose husband was shot and killed by a guard at Salinas Valley State Prison in 1998.

The two sat with fellow returning volunteers Kathy Turturici of Morgan Hill and Irma Mireles of San Jose. The four of them were tasked with filing volunteers’ information to be easily retrievable when they return.

“We all just met by sitting here and sharing the love,” Spencer said. “I’m here to give the love and get some back.”

Another volunteer search is scheduled for Saturday, and volunteers can show up from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the school, 85 Tilton Ave.

For more information on the Sierra LaMar Search Center, call 201-6364.

Anyone with information on the case can contact Santa Clara County Communications at 299-2311, or e-mail [email protected] Callers can call Sheriff’s Investigators at 808-4500 or the anonymous tip line at 808-4431. Information or tips can also be sent via sccgov.org/portal/site/sheriff or by text at 421-6760.

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