COTTONWOOD, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- The search Faith Moore started with boats, but with the Verde River receding, crews in kayaks have been deployed as the operation enters its fourth day.
While crews and volunteers went out in person Wednesday morning, the search for the 16-year-old who was swept away by floodwaters over the weekend did not stop when the sun went down Tuesday.
"Last night, we ran some infrared drones," Verde Valley District Fire Chief Danny Johnson told Gibby Parra early Wednesday morning. "This morning, we're processing about five million square feet of data that was obtained by those drones." That data will be used to lay out the search operation moving forward.
On Tuesday morning, an estimated 60 community volunteers showed up at Mingus Union High School, ready to get to work.
"[We're] very hopeful. There's been a big turnout from the community," Sheena Curl said Tuesday morning. "We're all here for the love and support for the family... I think with the good weather ahead, we have a good chance of bringing her home today."
Unfortunately, that did not happen, and the good weather is not expected to last. "We had one flash flood warning last night, late," Johnson said Wednesday morning. "We're anticipating more rain today."
The break in the rain has been helpful because the level of the Verde River has dropped. "When that river drops, it's opening up more search area for us, but it's also very dangerous. The boats that we had out initially are no longer usable on the river due to debris," Johnson said. He went on to explain that kayakers can get around those obstacles.
The level of the river is not the only issue with the terrain. "As the flash floods come through, the areas that we've already searched have now changed, so we have to go back and re-canvass those areas," Cottonwood Police Cmdr. Chris Dowell said.
Johnson and Dowell said everybody appreciates the willingness of volunteers to help look for Faith, but there's one important thing they want everyone to know. If you're going to help, you have to check with the operation at Mingus Union High School. The first issue is safety. They need to know where everyone is and what they're doing. But that's not all.
"If they're going out on their own, they may have covered areas that we've already search," Dowell said. "We would prefer to maximize their volunteering and put them in areas that we haven't searched."
The search team members have GPS devices that feed data back to the command truck in real time. Volunteers are being paired with those searchers. "If they're with trained professionals then we can account for them and make sure they're safe," Dowell said as he explained that the Verde River is "very unstable right now."
Donations of food, water, and Gatorade have been pouring in. Cottonwood Police Department volunteer Mark Luffman is managing what’s been dropped off, and is amazed by the community’s generosity. He said they need ice, lunch items, plastic grocery bags, and trash bags. You can take donations to Mingus Union High School, which is located at 1801 E. Fir Street, Cottonwood.
Stranded and swept away
Fire officials say Faith got stranded in floodwaters while driving Saturday night. More than 3 inches of rain fell in the area in just one hour. Crews say she was swept down the same wash as a K-9 officer earlier that evening.
Fire crews say Faith called for help around 9:30 p.m. Saturday, saying she was stuck in about 2 feet of water. But the floodwaters continued to swell. When rescuers arrived, they could see Faith's car and a "silhouette" of a person inside. By the time they got to the car, there was no one inside, fire officials say. "The door was open and she was no longer in the vehicle," said Johnson earlier in the search. Johnson says Faith's cell phone and some of her other belongings were found in the wash.
Johnson says Faith has deep ties to the community. She is the granddaughter of the recently retired fire chief from the Verde Valley Fire District and the retired EMS chief from Verde Valley Ambulance. Faith is also the niece of an active Cottonwood firefighter. All those ties are making it a very personal and emotional search effort. Johnson says he has stayed in touch with Faith's grandfather since the search began. "Joe spent a lot of years serving this community," Johnson said. "Now its our time to serve them."
Fire officials say they're thankful for all the volunteers who have stepped in to help with the search. At one point, about 100 people were out searching. But fire officials said because of the danger of potential storms and more flooding, only trained search and rescue crews are looking now. Searchers include boats, K-9 units and ground crews. They'll search until it's too dark to go on, then pick up again at first light. Johnson said they "want to give Faith every opportunity we can."
"We want our sweet girl home, and we know she's coming home," Faith's grandmother told us on Sunday, saying the family is not giving up hope.
Vigil for Faith
About 300 people held a prayer vigil at Mingus Union High School for Faith Monday evening. Faith's mom, Katie Moore, thanked everyone who showed up to support the family during this difficult time. "Thank you to each and every one of you for being here, for praying, for helping to find our girl," said Katie Moore. "We are living through our darkest hours but to have your support is monumental and we just can't thank you enough."
Johnson also said a prayer for the search and rescue crews. "I know there are some public safety people that are struggling tonight. Would you just comfort them and lift them up," he said.