March 15, 2010

Missing girl found safe in the woods

DARLA L

— By . PICKETT

Blethen Maine News Service

SALEM TOWNSHIP — A 9-year-old Winslow girl lost overnight Saturday in the dense woods around Mount Abram was found unharmed early Sunday afternoon, the Maine Warden Service said.

Leah Cuetara was found shortly before 2 p.m., more than 24 hours after she was last seen walking along an all-terrain vehicle trail Saturday morning near a family residence on Fish Hatchery Road.

Lt. Pat Dorian of the Maine Warden Service said Leah walked down a trail she had been on before with adults to go to a nearby stream.

When she tried to return, she became disoriented and was headed south along Quick Brook, Dorian said.

She was located by Jim Roberts and a passenger, who were riding an all-terrain vehicle near a trail about two miles from the place where the girl was last seen.

Another ATV rider, Jason Pinkham of Salem, came upon them and brought Leah to the command post at Mt. Abram High School.

Leah was evaluated by medical personnel at the command post and returned to her family, Dorian said.

''Other than her hands being scratched up, she was walking on her own,'' search team member Shelby Rousseau said in a report.

The daughter of Joshua and Christina Cuetara of Winslow, Leah had gone to a family reunion with her grandmother, according to relatives.

The ending was a happy one for about 350 people, including family members, volunteers and wardens, who turned out at the command center Saturday night and Sunday.

On Sunday, the school parking lot and nearby Route 142 were packed with vehicles loaded with people who wanted to help. People from as far away as Portland turned out to volunteer.

Game wardens organized a methodical search, looking first on the roads and then assembling volunteers for shoulder-to-shoulder grid searches of the hilly terrain.

By 1 p.m. Sunday, nerves were strained. It was reaching the 24-hour mark and there was no comforting news.

Leah's aunt, Ann Doughty, said she had been out to the search scene, but had to return.

''It was so wooded; I was emotionally overwhelmed. It was too frightening,'' Doughty said.

She said it was out of character for Leah to go off on her own, that she rarely goes anywhere without adult supervision.

Sue Dibiase, Leah's maternal grandmother from Canaan, said family members had been keeping vigil all night, but she had not lost faith.

''They found tracks. I'm confident,'' Dibiase said. ''Patience is so important.''

Leah's father, Joshua Cuetara, his voice choked with tears, tried to describe his concern a few hours before Leah was found.

''I can't talk about how I feel I tried to do a TV interview and couldn't,'' Cuetara said.

He is a reserve Clinton police officer, firefighter and leader in emergency services for the Maine Wing Civil Air Patrol. He said his training had helped him in the search for his daughter.

Family members did not report Leah's disappearance until about 1 p.m. Saturday, several hours after they began searching for her, according to game wardens.

Coordinating the search efforts were at least 26 game wardens, Maine State Police, six canines, along with an airplane from the Maine Warden Service, a helicopter from the Maine Forest Service and a fixed-wing airplane from the Civil Air Patrol. Members of the air patrol and volunteers from several area fire departments also took part in the search.

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