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Pants found on beach may be those of toddler

Clothing found on Gloucester beach

Authorities have recovered a pair of pink capri pants that Caleigh Harrison, the 2-year-old girl who was reported missing from a Rockport beach in the spring, may have been wearing on the day she disappeared, officials said Monday.

The pants were found among ocean debris on the northern end of Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester by a person walking along the shore, State Police spokesman David Procopio said in a prepared statement.

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“The pants are consistent in size, color, and style with those that Caleigh Harrison was wearing when she disappeared while playing on Rockport’s Long Beach,” Procopio said. “The pants have been shown to members of the child’s family but we have not yet confirmed that they were those worn by Caleigh.”

He later added, “There is a detail related to the design of the pants — which I do not want to specify — that we are hoping to confirm as being present when worn by Caleigh.”

He said investigators will examine the pants for physical evidence, such as a strand of hair, but analysts believe it is unlikely that they can recover trace DNA, because the pants had been in the water for an extended period of time.

The toddler was last seen on April 19 about a mile south from where the pants were found. Her mother, Allison Hammond, told the Globe that she took Caleigh, along with Caleigh’s 4-year-old sister, Elizabeth, to the beach and they were playing fetch with their family dog.

Hammond could not be reached for comment on Monday.

On the day her daughter disappeared, Hammond said, she accidentally threw a ball too far over a sea wall and left the girls alone on the beach for about two minutes to retrieve it.

When Hammond returned moments later, she said, Caleigh had vanished.

No evidence of foul play connected to Caleigh’s disappearance was found during multiple searches for her. State Police concluded that the girl had been swept out to sea in a rushing current and drowned.

Earlier this year, investigators ruled out abduction even after Elizabeth told a friend that “a mean man took Caleigh.” Anthony Harrison, the girls’ father, believes Elizabeth told the story out of fear of getting in trouble for not protecting her sister.

Mission for the Missing, a nonprofit organization that helps search for missing children and adults, conducted its own investigation, but ended up agreeing with the State Police opinion that she had been swept out to sea.

In July, Anthony Harrison also told The Associated Press that he accepted the theory that Caleigh had been taken by the sea. He could not be reached Monday.

Maureen Flatley, a volunteer with Mission for the Missing, said she met with members of the Harrison family Monday, and they “feel a pretty high degree of certainty” that the pants belonged to Caleigh.

“They feel a mix of almost relief, but also incredible sadness,” Flatley said.

She said her organization is planning to send a search team, including dogs and possibly divers, to the beach Wednesday in hopes of finding more evidence that may shed light on Caleigh’s disappearance.

Procopio said that as of Monday, State Police had no plans to search the beach again.

Flatley also said the Harrisons have accepted the notion that Caleigh was probably swept out to sea.

“The Harrisons, I think, have really come to terms with the likelihood that [Caleigh] had come to the water,” she said. “There was complete unanimity among the experts.”

Paul F. Murphy, vice chairman of the Rockport Board of Selectmen, said Monday that he hopes the discovery of the pants, if confirmed to be Caleigh’s, will help bring some closure to her family.

“The story and the situation affected everyone,” he said. “It was heart-wrenching from the moment she went missing to the present time. Our hearts are heavy here.”

Sarah N. Mattero can be reached at sarah.mattero@globe.com. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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