CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WAVY) — More than 1,000 volunteers donned in reflective vests were easy to spot as they searched Charlottesville this weekend. Finding a clue as to where a missing UVA student is, they knew, wouldn’t be so easy.
“It could be anything. Especially in a town like Charlottesville where the kids are out,” explained Kevin Brewer. “There’s no telling what’s been discarded. It’s all a potential clue until proven otherwise.”
Brewer leads Tidewater Search and Rescue, one of about 20 professionally trained groups that helped lead volunteers of moms, dads, friends, and neighbors.
Tidewater Search and Rescue crews train once a month. They have almost 40 members, 11 of which have the certifications to lead groups of volunteers. In total, Brewer said, there were about 200 group leaders who came from across the state, but Tidewater Search and Rescue was the only group from Hampton Roads.
Brewer said the search turned up hundreds of potential pieces of evidence, most of which will ultimately be ruled out of the investigation. But he tries to stay positive.
“Even though I did not find her Thursday, I found where she wasn’t. So, it enables them to put resources in places that haven’t been searched yet,” he said.
Last Thursday the search started where Hannah was last seen, near the University Mall, but by Sunday crews were deep into the woods.
“We have generated more leads and new information. One piece always leads to the next,” said Mark Eggerman with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management at a press conference in Charlottesville Sunday.
But police still don’t seem to have found the big break. While they’ve taken into custody suspect Jesse Leroy Matthew, Jr., they haven’t found Hannah. For Brewer, who’s spent 20 years searching for victims, it’s never easy when nothing turns up.
“Every time, when they keep going on and going on and there’s no resolution, it’s just like where do we look next?” Brewer explained of the frustration that comes with the job.
But he also added, he can’t let emotion get in the way of doing his job. Tidewater Search and Rescue members are all volunteers. They help because they want to.
“We can’t let emotion kick in. We’re out there just trying to find whoever is out there that’s lost or missing,” he said. “We have to turn the emotional side off, especially if we’re leading a team. Because if we’re emotional, that will trickle down into the team and they’ll be less effective in the field.”
VDEM scaled back the search to a small group of professionals this week. They have put groups like Tidewater Search and Rescue on standby in case a clue is discovered that warrants a renewed search effort.