Video: Ohio father: ‘We’re still looking for you’

  1. Closed captioning of: Ohio father: ‘We’re still looking for you’

    >>> as police acknowledge that hope is dimming that they listen found alive nearly a week after they disappeared. we'll talk with the father of one of the missing women in just a moment. but first, nbc's peter alexander has the latest on this story. peter, good morning.

    >> reporter: ann, good morning to you. this has been an emotionally taxing time in this community. first the joy of finding that 13-year-old sarah maynard who is safe, but now the growing concern that the other three people still missing may not be found alive. the search efforts continued late into monday night and that young girl sarah maynard is back home safely with her family. but we're also learning new details about what led investigators to the man who's charged with her kidnapping. he will make his first appearance in court later today . at a vigil monday night, this small ohio community gathered together, holding on to candles and to hope.

    >> it's a very tight community and it's just devastating what's happened.

    >> a lot of people are very scared.

    >> it's something you never think about happening in this little town .

    >> reporter: with three of the four still missing, tina herrmann , her son kodi and sharon strong.

    >> the key witness in this case survived the kidnapping, 13-year-old sarah maynard , herrmann 's daughter who was found tied up and gagged in the basement of matthew's homes saturday morning.

    >> a 13-year-old girl being held captive for four days by a total stranger, i would call her the epitome of bravery.

    >> reporter: authorities say the 30-year-old suspect is an ex-con having served time in prison for arson, hoffman is now behind bars again and not cooperating with detectives.

    >> he really was a weirdo. there's a hammock where he would sit and watch people, he's just different.

    >> reporter: late monday, an apparent break as searchers pulled an abandoned car from a pond near hoffman 's home, they later determined that car was unrelated to this crime. then they found suspicious items in a nearby park, but no sign of the missing three.

    >> people see something, clothing, something out of the ordinary, it could contain something that we need to further this investigation.

    >> reporter: this bizarre mission began last wednesday when herrmann 's co-workers became concerned that she didn't show up for work. investigators found unusual amounts of blood in that family home.

    >> the investigation shows that all four of them did not leave by their own choice.

    >> reporter: investigators say they're reviewing surveillance tape from this walmart where hoffman 's r the suspect reportedly bought a tarp. a cruel wait for this entire community and for this brave young girl . certainly one remarkable young girl , sarah maynard , investigators will return to that foundation and they're going to go back to that lake and also to the wooded areas nearby in search of any evidence in this case.

    >>> steve thompson is stephanie frank's father, good morning to you. i know you're joining us this morning because you have something important you would like to say on behalf of your daughter, it's a very tough morning, sir, as you well know. what would you like to say, go ahead?

    >> that we are still looking for you, hon, and we hope that we find you, tina and kody, well, everyone's behind you, the search parties have been great, communication's been okay. the sheriff's department as far as the investigation itself has been excellent. we are just hoping and praying that we find you soon. and i know that tina 's parents are feeling the same way that i am. and i hope that i'm doing them justice standing here talking and hope that all of you can feel my thoughts and prayers.

    >> mr. thompson , you talked about the police doing an excellent job. what have they told you and what questions do you wish they would answer?

    >> they told us basically what you know, we're actually getting it at the same time. i wish the communication was a little bit stronger between us . i do know that it is an investigation and they have to keep certain things to themselves. but it would be more helpful for the families if we knew a little bit more, just anything, just a comment. i know they're very busy, we don't want to take any of their time away in the investigation, the most important thing is getting our loved ones back to us.

    >> and on that point, police have been saying, mr. thompson is that they don't believe this was a home invasion , they go so far as to say that matthew hoffman the suspect in this case so far may be had been known to tina and to stephanie or that he was making himself known to them. do you know anything? have you ever heard of him before from your daughter? do you know people in the community who knew this man?

    >> no. no, i did not know him. the first time i even seen a picture of him was just the other day. i have no idea how that connection was ever made. from all indications, what i've talked to from neighbors and so forth, the type of person that he was, i don't think either one of the girls would have been really talking with him or just hanging out with him. it's just, to me, doesn't sound possible. but who knows? i mean hopefully we'll find that answer out soon.

    >> we're all listening and hoping for you, your daughter and your family. thank you mr. thompson this morning for speaking to us.

    >> thank you.

    >>> let's now bring in criminal profiler pat brown , she's the author of "the profiler" my life hunting serial killers and psychopaths. police sound pretty pessimistic, do you think the police know more than they're letting on?

    >> i would guess so. i'm sure the young girl possibly told them something that they are leaning on, that leads them to believe that the other three are not alive. mostly because first of all the blood in the home which indicates that one person was severely injured and that wouldn't be the teenaged girl and that leaves two and there are witnesses to what went down. clearly most people don't leave witnesses out there.

    >> and you don't want police to give up too soon is, so that's another factor in the case.

    >> they found the teenaged girl so there's always a possibility that perhaps the others are being kept someplace for some reason. she was kept, so we don't really know yet.

    >> how good are the chances that there are more suspects in this case?

    >> i would think it's a possibility, because it is very hard to control four people to get them all into a vehicle and an injured person as well and then there's the missing dog and to handle all of that, one person, it seems a little bit odd so one wonders whether there wasn't somebody else involved with it. who knew the family is the question, but i also agree it seems unlikely this is a complete stranger going in there and grabbing four people.

    >> obviously if anybody knows anything they should call investigators. pat brown , thank you so much

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/16/2010 4:56:15 PM ET 2010-11-16T21:56:15

A sheriff in central Ohio says a tarp and trash bags were taken from the home of a 13-year-old girl who was found bound and gagged in the basement of a man's home about 10 miles away.

The girl had disappeared Wednesday along with her mother, brother and the mother's friend. Authorities say she was found Sunday in the Mount Vernon home of Matthew J. Hoffman, who is being held on $1 million bond on a kidnapping charge. The other three remain missing.

Knox County Sheriff David Barber said Tuesday that the items found in the girl's home in Howard are significant to the investigation. He also says a Wal-Mart receipt listing tarps and trash bags has been found, but would not say where or when.

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Barber says Hoffman is on suicide watch after giving certain "indications" to staff.

Investigators have acknowledged hope is dimming that the girl's mother, brother and family friend will be found alive.

"You have to be realistic that there's a possibility that these folks are dead," Barber said Monday.

Police on Sunday rescued 13-year-old Sarah Maynard from the basement of Hoffman's home , then launched a search of a nearby lake for Maynard's mother, 32-year-old Tina Herrmann; the woman's 10-year-old son, Kody Maynard; and her 41-year-old friend, Stephanie Sprang.

All four vanished last Wednesday from a Howard, Ohio, home that police say was splattered with blood.

Sprang's father, Steve Thompson, said Tuesday he's not listening to the pessimistic possibility outlined by the sheriff.

“We are still looking for you, hon," Thompson said to his missing daughter on NBC's TODAY show. "We are hoping we can find you, Tina and Kody well. Everyone is behind you.… We are just hoping and praying that we find you soon. I’m hoping that all of you can feel my thoughts and prayers.”

Hoffman, who's been charged with one count of kidnapping, appeared in Mount Vernon Municipal Court on Tuesday through a video link from the jail, where he was wearing a green sleeveless shirt that revealed muscular arms. He mostly stared straight ahead, and yawned at one point.

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He did not enter a plea. The judge set bond at $1 million and assigned a public defender to represent Hoffman. Authorities said more charges were expected.

Image: Matthew J. Hoffman
Jay LaPrete  /  AP
Matthew J. Hoffman was sentenced to eight years in prison in Colorado in 2001 for arson and other charges.

It wasn't clear how well Hoffman knew the four missing people, but the sheriff suggested that the defendant had been watching them.

"They knew Hoffman or Hoffman made himself known to them; he acquainted himself with the family whether they knew he was acquainting himself with them or not," Barber said.

Thompson said he did not know Hoffman and had no idea how he became connected with his daughter and Herrmann.

"From all indications, when I'm talking to neighbors and so forth, it's the type of person that was — I don't think either one of the girls would have been really talking with him or just hanging out with him," Thompson told TODAY.

Authorities first questioned Hoffman on Thursday, the day after Herrmann failed to show up for work at Dairy Queen. Police found him sitting in his car near a bike trail opposite property owned by Kenyon College, near where Herrmann's pickup truck was found, Barber said.

The sheriff didn't say what later led investigators to Hoffman's two-story, tan-sided house in Mount Vernon, where authorities spent Monday scouring bike paths and riverbanks. A search team pulled a car and an SUV from a lake near Hoffman's home, but investigators say they're not likely related to the disappearances.

Authorities were to continue the search on Tuesday.

One of Hoffman's neighbors, Donna Davis, described him to WBNS-TV as "a weirdo," saying "he would sit and watch people" from a hammock near his house.

"He would always walk over to the gravel pit with bags and sometimes not bring them back. Sometimes he would," Davis said. The former gravel pit is now a park, and is also one of the locations where authorities carried out an extensive search on Monday, WBNS reported.

Hoffman's mother and stepfather live less than a mile away from Herrmann's home in a lakeside community north of Columbus. Hoffman last lived there two years ago, his mother said, before declining to comment further.

A man identifying himself as the stepfather described the suspect as a "loner" to the Columbus Dispatch, but also said that deputies told his family not to comment publicly on the case.

Hoffman was sentenced to eight years in prison in Colorado in 2001 for arson and other charges. Authorities allowed him to move to Ohio in 2007 after he was released on parole, which ended about a month ago. He had paid about $4,800 toward $2.06 million in restitution, Colorado court system spokesman Jon Sarche said.

Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher referred to the Colorado case when arguing for the $1 million bond.

"Based on the seriousness of the charges, the fact the defendant — he's only recently returned from Colorado — and other than his mother and stepfather has minimal ties to Knox County, he presents a flight risk," Thatcher said.

Public Defender Bruce Malek argued that Hoffman owns real estate in the county, has a father and sister in northeast Ohio and is employed as a tree trimmer, but it's seasonal work. "He is not currently employed, but he does have business connections here in Knox County," he said.

A message seeking further comment was left for Malek on Tuesday afternoon.

Authorities first questioned Hoffman on Thursday, the day after Herrmann failed to show up for work at Dairy Queen. Police found him sitting in his car near a bike trail opposite property owned by Kenyon College, near where Herrmann's pickup truck was found, Barber said.

The sheriff didn't say what later led investigators to Hoffman's two-story, tan-sided house. Authorities spent Monday scouring bike paths and riverbanks. A search team pulled a car and an SUV from a lake near Hoffman's home, but investigators say they're not likely related to the disappearances.

Barber declined to comment on whether Sarah was assaulted or the details of her capture. She was released from a hospital and was staying with relatives.

"She is a very brave little girl," Barber said. "Under the circumstances, a 13-year-old girl being held captive for four days by a total stranger ... I would call her the epitome of bravery."

At the Columbus home of the girl's paternal grandmother, Patricia Baker, a younger woman answered the door on Tuesday and declined to comment.

June Chadwell, 66, who said she had lived across the street from Baker for 37 years, said she had seen no sign of the girl but said the child's father, Larry Maynard, lived at the home with Baker and that he was seen sitting on a deck outside the home on Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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