As sunlight kissed green fields and fruit trees early Saturday, Sierra LaMar's family awoke to another morning in their three-week-long nightmare.
The bucolic quiet surrounding a part of Silicon Valley that seems barely removed from its agricultural roots belied a desperate search for the 15-year-old Morgan Hill girl who has been missing since March 16.
At a shuttered school that's been turned into a search-and-rescue command center since her disappearance, Sierra's family announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to her safe return.
Authorities believe Sierra was probably kidnapped while walking to catch a bus to her high school. In the weeks since, officials have logged more than 6,000 hours on the case, but they've been unable to locate any significant clues beyond the girl's cellphone and bag, found tossed in a field near her home.
Sierra's father, Steve LaMar, said the family scraped together the reward money through fundraisers and donations to an account set up with Chase bank. "We're hoping it might give someone the motivation to come forward," he said. "We're desperate for anything that can bring her home to us."
The search effort is being aided by thousands of volunteers; by the families of other Bay Area youngsters who have been kidnapped and killed, including those of Polly Klaas and Xiana Fairchild; and by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. On Saturday, Smith and teammates Joe Staley, Delanie Walker and Scott Tolzien were among about 500 people combing southern Santa Clara County for signs of Sierra.
The football players were led by Michael Le, whose sister, Michelle, was killed last year, allegedly by a jealous former friend.
The NFL stars made it clear they did not welcome the media attention, but Sierra's sister, Danielle, was grateful for the celebrity support. "When those kinds of people get involved, it gives us a whole new audience," she said.
A few yards from where she spoke, the parking lot at the former Burnett Elementary School was crowded with TV satellite trucks. Car windows in the lot carried painted messages like "Find Sierra LaMar" and "Come Home, Sierra, We Miss You."
Inside the tiny school gymnasium, where volunteers from around the Bay Area were triaged for training, redshirted members of the KlaasKids Foundation handed out GPS devices and instructed searchers not to disturb any clues they might find.
Around the corner, Patt Brach oversaw a makeshift kitchen where tubs of bottled water, orange slices and baked goods awaited the search teams. Local merchants have been donating coffee, pizza and bagels by the thousands.
"She could be any of our daughters," Brach said, explaining why she and hundreds of others who had never met the LaMars had been turning out to help.
"Plus," she added, "this is my town. We all moved here because we wanted a safe place where we could raise our children."
Steve LaMar, a computer engineer at a tech startup in Sunnyvale, was especially grateful that so many people had shown up on Easter weekend. "Everyone's been so generous," he said.
The hunt for his daughter stretched farther on Saturday to include a 20-mile radius from her home. A local pilot has donated the use of a helicopter to assist searchers, who have been coordinated by a retired Navy search-and-rescue veteran.
A few miles from the Burnett campus, on the quiet cul-de-sac where Sierra lived with her mother and her mom's boyfriend, neighbors have tied yellow ribbons to their lampposts and mailboxes in a show of solidarity.
Danielle LaMar, a senior at Sacramento State, has been driving home to Morgan Hill every weekend since her sister's disappearance. She said she was grateful for the distraction offered by class work, a sentiment echoed by her father, who returned to work last week.
Asked what she might say to Sierra or anyone who might be holding her against her will, Danielle Lamar said:
"If somebody has her I'd just say, 'Find it in your heart to let her come home. So many people love her; she's so young and has so much to do with her life.' "
And to Sierra, she would add: "Stay strong. And when you do come home, nobody's going to be mad. Nothing else matters."
Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638.
Anyone with information about Sierra LaMar's whereabouts is asked to call the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office at 408-808-4500 or an anonymous tip line at 408-808-4311. Donations to her family's reward fund may be made at local Chase bank branches or via www.facebook.com/find.sierra.lamar.
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