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Specialists say missing Caleigh Harrison was likely swept out to sea

Anthony Harrison, father of Caleigh, stood with his family on their front porch in Gloucester during the announcement of findings by Mission for the Missing.
Anthony Harrison, father of Caleigh, stood with his family on their front porch in Gloucester during the announcement of findings by Mission for the Missing.(Bill Greene/Globe staff)

GLOUCESTER — A group of ­retired law enforcement officials who assist families in missing children ­cases concluded Monday that ­Caleigh Harrison, the 2-year-old girl who disappeared on a Rockport beach on April 19, was swept out to sea and drowned.

The group also ruled out the possibility that Caleigh may have been ­abducted.

Mission for the Missing — a nonprofit volunteer group of private investigators, crime analysts, and forensic specialists — had been asked to investigate the case by Caleigh's father, ­Anthony Harrison.

After interviewing family members, eyewitnesses, and ­establishing a toll-free tip line, the ­organization came to the same conclusion as State Police did in late April.

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"We have concluded that it is highly unlikely that the child was abducted; it really would have been an impossibility," Maureen Flatley, a spokes­woman for Mission for the Missing, said by phone.

The announcement at a Gloucester press conference dimmed the Harrison family's hopes that they will ever see ­Caleigh again. Their anguish began April 19 at Long Beach in Rockport, after her mother, ­Allison Hammond, took her to the beach along with her then-4-year-old sister Elizabeth, and the family dog.

Around noon, Hammond said, she went to retrieve a ball and lost sight of her children. When she ­returned, she noticed that ­Caleigh, who was wearing bright pink that day, was missing.

For the next week, State ­Police, Rockport police, the US Coast Guard, and the state ­Environmental Police searched the beach for Caleigh, and found no trace of the toddler.

Dozens of State Police divers assisted in the search, which ­included helicopters, sonar, ­canine patrols, and investigators who interviewed witnesses who had seen Caleigh that day. Investigators even searched nearby Milk Island and dug up a portion of the beach, but found no clues relating to her disappearance.

Monday's announcement came at the Harrison family residence. Caleigh's father ­attended, along with his parents and representatives of ­Mission for the Missing. Hammond, Harrison's estranged wife, did not attend and could not be reached for comment.

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In early May, Harrison and Hammond appeared on the Nancy Grace television show on the HLN network and theorized that their daughter may have been abducted. They said their older daughter, Elizabeth, who is now 5, told them that a "mean guy" with black shorts who was smoking a cigarette may have been responsible for Caleigh's disappearance.

On Monday, Harrison said Elizabeth no longer wants to talk about the day Caleigh disappeared. Harrison said he still hopes that a miracle will occur and that his daughter will be found, but he acknowledged that she probably drowned.

"The possibility that she was swept out to sea is very, very strong," he said. "We're never going to stop looking for her, and we're never going to stop praying."

Two weeks after Caleigh's disappearance, Harrison contacted Mission for the Missing after the family suspected the girl might have been taken from the beach. Alan Tate, the group's president, said his ­investigation revealed no foul play.

"We had nothing to corroborate that," he said.

Tate said he interviewed more than a half-dozen people who were at the beach or near Caleigh on Aug. 19.

"I can tell you nobody saw a vehicle that didn't belong in the neighborhood," he said. "Nobody saw a vehicle leave that they didn't know."

State Police spokesman ­David Procopio said Caleigh's case would remain open, but reiterated that he believes it was a water-related tragedy.

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"On behalf of those who searched for Caleigh, we will never forget her and are mindful of the sorrow that her family lives with every day," he said. "We still hope that someday we will be able to definitively tell them what happened to the little girl whom they love."


Steven A. Rosenberg
can be reached at
srosenberg@globe.com.