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St. Louis County Police Chief Holds Press Conference

Aired July 26, 2002 - 15:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live, though, to St. Louis, Missouri where they are addressing reporters right now on the abduction case in St. Louis of 6-year-old Cassandra Williamson. Let's listen in.

RON BATTELLE, ST. LOUIS COUNTY POLICE CHIEF: ... department and county police are still maintaining our foot searches in the area. We have approximately 100 people involved in the search at this point in time. I have been in touch with county executive Buzz Westfall (ph) and talked to him personally, and Governor Holden personally, and they are both committed to giving us whatever resources from the county or the state that we need, and we are all committed to finding Casey, hopefully finding her alive.

We have set up an 800 toll free number for people to call if they have information they feel may be beneficial to us. That number is 1- 888-265-8639. The FBI is involved with us in the investigation. Keith Ardo (ph), the special agent in charge of the St. Louis office, is here, and we are in the process of setting up what the FBI calls rapid start. It's a computer based system to help us track leads and information that may come in to better organize or search in our investigation.

QUESTION: Chief, what about this man that was asleep on the couch? What do you think of his alibi? Father says that he was gone at the same time the little girl disappeared.

BATTELLE: All I can say about him, or anyone, really, is we are talking to a lot of witnesses and we'll continue to do that at this point in time. I can't -- what they say or didn't say I can't get into right now.

QUESTION: Are you launching this 800 number because you fear Casey may be out of the area?

BATTELLE: No. It's just something we want to have in place just in case that has occurred.

QUESTION: Can we get a read on what kind of leads you have been getting from the public?

BATTELLE: Major, can you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The leads we have gotten so far is just people reporting people that they think are suspicious, and we had officers that have contacted these people, and nothing has actually developed from that at that point, but we do continue to get people to call in and give us information, and we would encourage people to continue to do that. As the chief mentioned, just in the event that she may be out of the area, so we do want people to call with whatever information they might have.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...the girl's belongings to find the tracking dog -- did you give the dogs a sample of these people you are questioning?

BATTELLE: We are following all the protocols necessary to do the appropriate tracking.

QUESTION: So that could include anything?

BATTELLE: It could include anyone.

QUESTION: Within the last hour, we saw some divers in the river. Can you tell us what is going on down there?

BATTELLE: They are just -- they are searching some areas down there. That's not based upon any specific information, it's just cautionary and just part of the broad search we are doing.

QUESTION: Chief, any of the people you are talking to asked to see an attorney?

BATTELLE: No.

QUESTION: Can the FBI special agent talk to us?

BATTELLE: Sure.

QUESTION: Tell us about this rapid response team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rapid start system is, just like the chief said, a database to help us organize the leads that could come in. As they come in, we put them in our computer so we can go back and search them later on.

QUESTION: From your experience when you look at this case, how hopeful are you of finding her OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are always hopeful. And as the chief said, there are a number of leads that we're going to search out, and hopefully, with this 800 number, we'll get somebody to call in and give us a good lead.

QUESTION: Are you concerned with the amount of time that has passed as Casey was first reported missing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, as time goes on, you always get a little more concerned, but right now we are still hopeful.

QUESTION: Is there anything unusual in Casey's family situation that could have led to something like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't comment on that.

QUESTION: There's a white piece of material found down by, I believe, the Miramak (ph) river. Was that helpful at this time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any evidence that they found right now, I'm going to let the chief respond to that.

QUESTION: Chief, anything about that?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BATTELLE: It's hard to speculate on that at this point in time. As far as any possible evidence, we can't comment on that at this point.

QUESTION: What can people do to help?

BATTELLE: Just keep your eyes and ears open. If they hear or see something suspicious, call that 888 number and let us know and we'll follow up on it. And just as importantly, you know, be concerned about your own children at this time. At this -- we don't feel at this point in time this is just a random act, but with what has occurred across the nation, I think we all as parents have got to be more attentive to our children.

QUESTION: What do you mean when you don't think it's a random act? Possibly somebody who knew her?

BATTELLE: Well, we have nothing to indicate that it's random at this point in time.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) throughout the morning that you do believe or investigating the possibility of an abduction. Can you give us the indicators that have led you feel like it had to be something like that?

BATTELLE: Just the circumstances of her disappearance.

QUESTION: Chief, can you tell us at the time that the father came out of the bathroom and noticed his daughter was missing, how many adults were in the house at that time?

BATTELLE: We don't have the exact -- I don't have the exact number for you, but the father was in the house with his daughter. He got up. He went to the bathroom, and when he came back out, the daughter -- he didn't see the daughter and he notified the police, but I don't know the exact number of people in the house.

QUESTION: But isn't it strange that the family friend disappeared about the same time as the little girl and then he's come back, or is that not?

BATTELLE: I really don't want to comment on that. We've talked to everybody that's in the house and we'll continue to do that, and we're trying to develop some information to see if we can have a more direct way to go with this. But at face value, it's not unusual. It's just the fact that we are just following everything.

QUESTION: Nobody is under arrest? Nobody has been charged?

BATTELLE: No.

QUESTION: Is everyone cooperating?

BATTELLE: Yes. Everybody that we are talking to right now is cooperating with us, and we are interviewing them voluntarily.

QUESTION: Are you being able to rule anyone out as a suspect?

BATTELLE: We haven't been able to rule anybody in or out at this point in time.

QUESTION: Why was the man on the couch all wet and muddy?

BATTELLE: Well, we're going to determine that later.

QUESTION: You've had five hours. Has he given you any alibi, any excuse to account for him coming back all wet?

BATTELLE: He's talking to us, but we are not going to divulge what he had to say.

We're going to be available again at 4:45 or 5:00 o'clock. What works out better, as far as you guys want to go -- live at 5:00 or...

PHILLIPS: All right, you have been watching a news conference there. The St. Louis County Police Chief Ron Battelle addressing reporters about that search for 6-year-old Cassandra Williamson, the little girl that has been missing since early this morning. She vanished from her home this morning in Valley Park, it's a suburb of St. Louis. Happened about 8:00 o'clock Eastern time this morning. Her father just leaving the room for a moment; the next thing you knew, she was gone.

They are questioning everybody that was staying in that home at that time, including a 25-year-old homeless man. They have no suspects at this time, just questioning and desperately trying to search for the missing young girl.

Now we back to Leon Harris and TALKBACK LIVE.

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