Stephanie Dietrich, speaking Monday in an interview with MSNBC TV's Dan Abrams.
updated 12/5/2005 8:09:44 PM ET 2005-12-06T01:09:44

The Ohio woman who found the bodies of two New Hampshire children missing since 2003 said she had been looking for them for months because of clues that the gravesite could be in the region.

Stephanie Dietrich said she began looking for the Sarah and Philip Gehring in July after she heard that Teri Knight, their mother, had asked for the public’s help.

“I figured I was the public,” Dietrich, 44, said in a telephone interview Sunday with The Telegraph of Nashua. “She asked for help and I didn’t have anything else going on.”

The children had been last seen in Concord on July 4, 2003. Their father, Manuel Gehring, confessed to killing Sarah, 14, and Philip, 11, driving for hours and then burying their bodies somewhere in the Midwest.

Dietrich, 44, lives in Akron, Ohio, about 15 miles from the spot in Hudson, Ohio, where she found the bodies Thursday with the help of her dog.

Before he committed suicide by strangling himself in jail, Gehring told police he couldn’t remember where he dumped the bodies. He did, however, provide clues that led to repeated searches along a 700-mile stretch of Interstate 80 from Pennsylvania to Nebraska.

Investigators concluded in 2004 that pollen found on dirt on Gehring’s minivan and shovel suggested that the soil most likely came from northeastern Ohio.

Teri Knight herself said she searched within five miles of Hudson, Ohio, last summer.

Dietrich, who went to high school in Hudson and has two children of her own, said she read transcripts of the father’s comments online and knew an area in the town that she thought could be the place he told police about.

Last Tuesday afternoon she was able to find the spot with her dog, Ricco.

Video: Woman help solve missing children case “Ricco speaks to you with his whole body,” she said. “He listens with his body. He’s very persuasive.”

She hesitated to dig that day because she heard hunters nearby. She called the Hudson police department Thursday morning and described the spot to them. She tried to stay home, but couldn’t.

When she and Ricco got to the spot and started to dig, she hit a black plastic trash bag. “I didn’t want to be the finder,” she said. “I just wanted to find the space and have someone else come and find it.”

That was enough’
But she dug just a little more and found a cross made of sticks and duct tape, as the father had described in his confession. “As soon as I picked up that cross I was, like, ’Ricco, we’re not going to dig anymore,”’ she said.

She and the dog headed out of the woods and found a police officer, and together they returned to the spot. The officer lifted the plastic, she said, and “that was enough.”

New Hampshire’s Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, who has been working on the case since the children disappeared, hailed Dietrich’s efforts.

“She’s a great person,” Strelzin said Monday. “She’s a mother who obviously was just hit with the story of what happened to Philip and Sarah and really felt in her own heart the appeal she heard from Teri.”

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