Updated: 11:45 a.m. Wednesday
FENTON • A girl missing from Louisiana, Mo., for more than a day was found Tuesday night in a strip mall parking lot in Fenton, police said.
St. Louis County police said they received a call at 9:45 p.m. for a boy wandering around in the parking lot of a strip mall near Highway 141 and Gravois Road. The "boy" turned out to be 4-year-old Alisa Maier, police said.
Alisa had no visible injuries when a St. Louis County police officer found her in back of a car wash.
In a news conference this morning in Clayton, St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch said investigators believed that Alisa had been abducted by a stranger. He called the investigation "wide open," but added:
"We're following hundreds of leads, and some of them are very good," Fitch said.
Alisa was treated at St. Clare Health Center in Fenton, then taken to a St. Louis County police precinct where she was reunited with her family. The family went to Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center's emergency room at about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday for additional care. After she was checked over thoroughly, the family left the hospital shortly before 7:30 a.m.
Bob Davidson, a spokesman for Cardinal Glennon, said Alisa and her family looked tired but happy. "They're tired because they've been through a lot, but they're also elated. Alisa was sitting on her mother's lap, and it looks like her mom will never let her go." Davidson added: "Ultimately, it's the greatest of days because a little girl has been reunited with her family."
Police officials would not discuss any medical examinations of the girl.
Alisa's father asked him to pass along to the public how thankful the family is for all of the community's prayers and thoughts, and for all of the volunteers who worked to find Alisa.
At least two witnesses told police they saw Alisa get out of a black or dark-colored, four-door mid-sized vehicle with a very loud muffler, St. Louis police chief Tim Fitch said. The car also was missing hubcaps on the driver's side.
The car was so loud that it could be missing a muffler or have a hole in its muffler. Police say the car could be a Ford Escort.
Anyone who spots the suspected car should call St. Louis County police at 314-889-2341. The department planned an 11 a.m. news conference to discuss and update the search for the man who abducted Alisa.
The description of the car generally matches that of the vehicle seen Sunday evening in Louisiana, Fitch said. He said witnesses described the driver was a man possibly in his early 30s with darker skin.
The girl was tired but was talking with investigators. Fitch did not say what information she had provided to officers about what had happened.
Rich Hughes, the Louisiana police chief, said Alisa's family was relieved.
"They're obviously very happy that they have their daughter back," Hughes said.
Outside the family's home in Louisiana, Roy Harrison, one of the girl's grandfathers, spoke briefly with reporters late this morning. Harrison said the family was together in a hotel at an undisclosed location and may not return home today.
Harrison said Alisa was in fine condition, except that her hair had been cut short. Of the hair cut, he said, "That was by a scared man just trying to hide."
Asked about his own mood today, Harrison said, "I would do a back flip if I could, but I'm just too dadgum old... I had faith that we'd get her home. I won't lie to you and tell you that I wasn't worried about the worst."
Harrison called Alisa's brother, Blake, "My hero." Blake's description of the car and suspect were close to what police have put out since she was found.
Outside the home, at 320 North Carolina Street, a wellwisher had left a homemade sign saying, "Welcome home Alisa." A woman dropped by with a bouquet of flowers.
"It was a great thing to wake up to," Barbara Deacon, the flower-bearer, said of the good news.
Police were called to the Olde Towne area of Fenton by a passerby who called concerned about a little boy wandering in the area. When the police officer arrived, he saw a small child with close-cropped brown hair. The officer then asked the child's name and quickly determined it was the missing girl, the source said.
Investigators were attempting to find out how the girl ended up there or if people in the vicinity saw anything before the wandering child was reported to police.
FBI and St. Louis County police investigators then converged on the hospital.
In Fenton, where Alisa was found, passersby slowed to get a look at the police tape and officers that still remained at the scene. Bob Conley was one of the people who paused to look.
"It about gives me the chills," said Conley, 75. "It's a miracle just to find her alive."
Workers inside the Phillips 66 next to the car wash were questioned by police but declined to tell a reporter what they saw Tuesday night or what they told police.
Ron Bartholome, 47, of Fenton, bought lottery tickets at the station and said while he was glad Alisa was found, "It makes you sick that he's still out there."
The car wash and gas station are next to a bank and post office. The car wash adjoins the Fenton Plaza strip mall just north across Fenton Creek from the Gravois Bluffs development.
Jesse Bogan of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this article.
4-year-old Missouri girl abducted from front yard
By STEPHEN DEERE AND KIM BELL
Posted: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 8:21 pm
Earlier on Tuesday, friends and strangers drove back roads, searched a creek and gave away stacks of fliers hoping to turn up any sign of the girl, who disappeared after crossing the street to go home for dinner. The FBI and local police had been looking for Alisa, who lives barely a block from City Hall and the police station in the south end of town. Investigators said the girl's 5-year-old brother was the lone witness to the abduction, which was reported shortly before 8 p.m. Monday.
They also said they didn't have a lot to go on.
"A stranger came and the girl got into a car," said FBI agent Mike Kaste, assistant special agent in charge of the St. Louis office. "As for the nuts and bolts, we are still trying to figure them out ... We have a white male, possibly in his 20s, and a dark vehicle."
Later that evening, several hundred people gathered in a riverside park for a candlelight vigil to pray for Alisa's safe return.
"Give her strength, Lord. Give her comfort," said the Rev. Terry Cook of the Pike County Blessed Hope Church. "Let her know her mommy and her daddy want her back."
Alisa's father, David Maier, spoke briefly at the vigil.
"I just want to thank you all for you all's support," Maier said. Family members hugged one another and cried.
Angela Reddick, Alisa's great-aunt, said family members inside the house immediately started looking for the girl after her brother said she had gotten into a car.
"No one recognizes the description of the car or him," Reddick said. "It was a stranger."
Louisiana is a town of 3,900 people on the Mississippi River, about 80 miles north of St. Louis. Highway 54, the major east-west highway, crosses the river there over the Champ Clark Bridge, nine blocks from Alisa's home.
Investigators said Alisa was with her brother, Blake, in their front yard in the 300 block of North Carolina Street. Blake told their mother and investigators that a man in a black or dark-colored four-door sedan drove up, took Alisa and drove away.
Only a vacant lot and an apartment building separate the family's two-story home from Highway 79, the main north-south highway in town.
Investigators said the girl's parents were inside, unaware of what had happened. A neighbor said Alisa was across the street from her home, playing with a neighbor's kitten when her mother, Kimberly Harrison, called her home to dinner.
The neighbor, Anita McKlevis, said Harrison called police after Blake told her what he saw. Increasingly frantic while waiting for police to respond, Harrison jumped into the family van and drove off, trying to find the mysterious car herself.
"She was scared to death," McKlevis said of the girl's mother. "Her voice was shaky; she was just beside herself."
Based on Blake's description of events, the abductor was a thin white male, possibly in his late teens or early 20s, with dark curly hair. His car may have front-end damage.
Police said Blake quoted the suspect as telling Alisa to "come here," but the boy couldn't say whether the man grabbed her or she climbed into the car.
Reddick said neighbors told her a black sedan had driven through the area several times shortly before the disappearance.
"She's a very shy little girl," Reddick said as she stood outside the police station Tuesday. "We were shocked that she got in the car."
McKlevis, the neighbor, said Alisa is a well-mannered little girl who often played in a pool on the side yard under the careful watch of her mother, father or grandmother. McKlevis said Alisa was across the street from her home playing with the kitten when her mother called out to say dinner was ready.
McKlevis' adult son, who had been on their front porch with friends, went inside to play Nintendo. They assumed Alisa was crossing the street to go home.
"The little girl is so sweet. Her mother couldn't believe she would've gotten in that car. The person could have been waiting around the corner," McKlevis said.
Louisiana Police Chief Rich Hughes said as many as 100 agents and police officers worked the case Tuesday. The FBI's Kaste said officers had obtained surveillance videos from several places in town and had gathered some evidence at the scene, although he declined to discuss any of it.
Hughes said Alisa was born in Ohio, but her family has relatives in the Louisiana area. Said the FBI's Kaste: "They are a strong family; they are very close. This is a very close community, and they have a lot of support."
At the Elks Lodge, three blocks from Alisa's home, volunteers gathered to help. Organizers sent more than 130 of them out in pairs to search neighborhoods and roads, said Susan Whitaker, who worked the staging desk at the clubhouse.
She said people were arriving from as far away as St. Louis to help in the search.
"It's strange," she said of the apparent abduction. "This kind of thing doesn't happen in a town like this."
Keith Wills and his girlfriend, Jennifer Rhodes, spent the day driving the back roads of Pike County. Wills said many residents quickly learned of the abduction and Amber Alert through Facebook.
Mayor Thomas Wallace theorized that the proximity of the Maier home to a busy highway could have played a role in Alisa's abduction. "Somebody could have been on Highway 79 and could have seen the children in the yard," Wallace said.
Others mentioned that a carnival had been in town over the July 4 weekend, which drew strangers to Louisiana.
Wallace said the abduction has left residents "kind of shocked that something like that would happen in Louisiana."
Anyone with information about the abduction is asked to call the Louisiana Police Department at 1-573-754-4021. The FBI said people also could call the FBI with tips at 314-612-3000 or send them online to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim O'Neil of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
(Check back later for more on this breaking story).