Marie Rankin spends most of her Saturdays out searching. Rankin, a petite, soft-spoken mother, has been searching for missing teen Sierra LaMar since the end of June. LaMar was abducted on the morning of March 16 near her home in Morgan Hill.
Rankin, of Pleasanton, is also a volunteer for the Pleasanton Police Department and a Tri-Valley SART advocate (Sexual Assault Reponse Team).
Rankin joined the search for LaMar soon after the recovery of Pleasanton's Jane Doe, who had been found in a trash can on Dublin Canyon Road, in May. The woman was identified months later as Ana Flores-Pineda of Stockton. During the initial recovery of the body, some believed the victim could have been LaMar. It was quickly determined that she was not LaMar.
Rankin was assigned to help at the Dublin Canyon crime scene and said she believes that triggered her desire to start searching for LaMar. Rankin says that sometimes people hear about these cases and don't think there is anything they can do to help. But in the case of LaMar, Rankin believes we can.
"I felt myself deeply angry [about the abduction]," Rankin said. "Going to the search center ... I did not know if there was anything I had to offer. When you are there, her family is there, and you feel like you are helping to give something to them."
Rankin, who works from home, says she attends the searches every Saturday that she's available. She says the best way to explain her drive to search is that she feels a calling.
"Something inside, telling you that you need to," she said. "I felt I needed to act."
Rankin says when she a teenager growing up in Fremont she was walking to school for a half-day when a Fremont Police officer stopped to ask why she was not in school. They then gave her a ride to school because officers were concerned for her safety. They had just discovered the remains of 14-year-old Kelly Poppleton, who had been found dismembered after being abducted in the early 80s.
Rankin says the volunteers all arrive at the search center at Burnett Elementary School in Morgan Hill on Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. to check-in. Volunteers are divided into groups after an opening prayer, given a briefing and then sent out to search.
"The typical day is done by noon, and they feed you while doing a little debrief," said Rankin. "The feeling there is a feeling of hope and serenity. The volunteers are all good people with the same desire. They have amazing kitchen staff volunteering. You really make life-long friends when volunteering with a common thread."
Rankin plans on being there every Saturday as long as they have searches.
"I get a sense that people are losing hope since the suspension of the Wednesday searches," said Rankin. "If we quit looking and she is deceased, it looks worse. We need perps to understand we are not going to give up. When you take a child your fate is sealed. Sierra was not just the LaMar family's loss- she was a loss to the Bay Area and to all of California. She is part of all of us. Who knows who she could have achieved."
Rankin hopes that by sharing her story, others will be encouraged to join the search.
"If people don't help and get involved, she will become one of those just lost," she said. "There is hope she is alive and to help, they can be aware and watch around them too."
Rankin, who is a runner, said that when she first joined one the Saturday searches, she had already committed to running a half-marathon in San Leandro so she got the idea to wear her "Keep Hope Alive, Find Sierra LaMar" t-shirt in the race.
"I cut the neck and sleeves off and wrote on the back 'Sierra L. STILL MISSING Searches held every Wednesday and Saturday volunteers needed' across my back in (permanent ink)," she said. "Since I knew runners were givers, I figured I'd do some advertising. A few people did ask about her on that run. I wear the shirt during my daytime or afternoon runs in town as well as any races I participate in. I'm an average speed runner and usually start toward the rear of the pack and finish in the middle or slightly behind that. For the first time in my running career, I decided to start toward the front on the Primos for Education half, so more runners could see the shirt, knowing I'd drop back. It was kinda funny, I felt like I was running backwards for the first mile or so, until I found my natural position in the crowd. There are days, I pick up the shirt and wonder if I'm viewed as 'too much' or perhaps even a downer for those just wanting to take a walk and enjoy the pretty day. Is this too much? Then I look at her picture and ask Sierra if she wants to run today...she always says 'yes.' "
Follow the LaMar updates on Facebook. The search center is located at Burnett Elementary School at 85 Tilton Avenue in Morgan Hill.
Email TIPS@SHERIFF.SCCGOV.ORG to report tips to law enforcement via email.
Contact Crime Stoppers International – Silicon Valley to report tips to the Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers.
In Dublin, There is a $95,000 reward for information about Ilene's disappearance.
Michaela Garecht, who was 9-years-old when she was kidnapped in Hayward, has been missing for more than 24 years.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website, an "an average of 2,185 children reported missing each day or over 800,000 children each year."