Authorities in southern New Jersey exhausted their search Tuesday of a municipal park and pond where a missing high school student's car was found a day earlier with her purse and cellphone inside.
More than 100 people searched for clues that could lead them to 18-year-old Sarah Townsend, who was last seen at 7 a.m. Monday leaving her Florence home for Allentown High School in Monmouth County.
Townsend's boyfriend called police shortly before 10 a.m. when he found her car near a pond in Green Acres Park, several miles from her home. Burlington Township police Lt. Bruce Painter said he's sure that Townsend and her boyfriend had contact before she disappeared and that the two made frequent visits to the park.
With no evidence of foul play, detectives are now handling the disappearance as a missing-person case.
"What's suspicious about it is there's a car found in front of a body of water, with her purse and cellphone still in the car," Painter said. "But there's no signs of anyone dragged into water, no blood, no signs of a struggle."
Although accessible from a major road near Interstate 295, Green Acres Park is a vast and secluded area at the entrance to a series of nature reserves that sit along the Delaware River. Townsend's car was found in a dirt lot overlooking a small placid pond.
Dive teams searching the pond found nothing related to Townsend. Police, fire and emergency officials from nearby communities combed the wooded areas in and around the park with search dogs until mid-afternoon Tuesday, when police determined additional efforts would be fruitless. When tides permit, marine units will continue to search Assicunk Creek, the narrow waterway that leads from the park to the Delaware River.
Search efforts turn now to Townsend's family and friends to identify why she may have disappeared and where she may have gone.
Family members who answered the phone at Townsend's home said they had no idea what could have happened and urged anyone with information to contact police.
"We want her to know that we love her," said a woman who declined to give her name. "Please just come home."
A $10,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to Townsend's safe return.