SEADRIFT – Trudging through tangles of tall grass, a group of volunteer searchers, their brows glistening with sweat, canvassed another overgrown field less than a mile from where Suzie Escobedo was reported missing days earlier.
“We’ll take it one step at a time,” said John Rugg, a 63-year-old Houston volunteer turned searcher. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
Tuesday, five days after 25-year-old Escobedo went missing, local authorities were aided by volunteer searchers from Texas EquuSearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team, a nonprofit that specializes in finding lost people. About 20 volunteers from the nonprofit, including Rugg, led groups of more than 40 local volunteers in looking for Escobedo or any evidence related to her disappearance.
“She is part of the community, and everybody is worried,” said Investigator Gracie Mendoza, of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office. “She just needs to be found.”
Authorities suspect foul play is involved in Escobedo’s disappearance in part because of what she has left behind — her keys, cellphone and a 4-month-old daughter she was caring for, said Chief Deputy Johnny Krause. Although investigators are awaiting the results of forensic testing, they have obtained search warrants and even seized Escobedo’s Loop Road mobile home to preserve any potential evidence inside.
They have yet to make any breaks in her case, Krause said Tuesday afternoon.
Nevertheless, EquuSearch director Tim Miller said he remained optimistic about the search for Escobedo. He said his group of mostly Houston residents accepted an invitation from Escobedo’s family to work in Seadrift after authorities approved of their presence.
“Many, many times, we are the last resort, and the only resort, for the families,” Miller said.
Inside the Seadrift Civic Center on Tuesday morning, local volunteers split into two groups – those with all-terrain vehicles and those who planned to search on foot.
“Everybody has their part of the puzzle,” Rugg said.
Seadrift resident Esmerelda Macias, 40, said she was compelled to help search for Escobedo, whom she has known for more than 20 years.
Armed with a long garden hoe to extend her reach, Macias spent the morning trekking through the less-traversed portions of the county in search of her friend.
“If you see any fresh tire tracks or anything that a woman might have falling out of her purse or off of her body, that’s what we are looking for,” said Rugg, who led a team of volunteer searchers.
After taking an ATV to an area designated by investigators, Rugg’s handful of searchers spread out, walking slowly and keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.
The group walked along roadway shoulders, peered into underbrush and even opened a dumpster to examine its contents.
They also relied on their senses of smell and hearing.
“Be alert for insect activity and noise,” Rugg said. “You’ll hear fruit flies and stuff like that.”
Rugg has worked with EquuSearch since March 4, 2015, the day his then 20-year-old nephew, Kyle Rugg, went missing. To date, Kyle Rugg has not been found.
The saddest part of any missing-person case is telling family members the search must be suspended, Miller said.
They planned to continue their search Wednesday morning after an 8 a.m. meeting at the Seadrift Civic Center, 501 Main St.
“We try to bring closure,” said EquuSearch member K.T. Terrell, 50. “Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad.”