The search for a missing 12-year-old Vermont girl who triggered the state’s first Amber Alert centered Friday on the social networking site MySpace after divers discovered nothing in a lake near where some of her belongings were found, police said.
Brooke Bennett vanished Wednesday after being dropped off in the morning at a convenience store, where she was supposedly going to meet a friend and then go to a hospital to visit a relative of the friend.
Police now believe that was a ruse, and that the girl might have been going to meet someone she’d been communicating with online.
One day after issuing the alert, investigators focused Friday on someone she might have met online, the head of the Vermont State Police said.
“This case is about a MySpace visitation,” said Col. James Baker. “Our focus is on the communications Brooke may have had via that media.”
Video from an interior surveillance camera at the convenience store in Randolph, released Friday, showed the girl and her uncle walk into the store and then leave, each going in separate directions, with Brooke walking away by herself.
Police not ready to say girl was kidnapped
She was seen about 45 minutes later inside a coin laundry, police said.
Baker wouldn’t say whether she was alone at that point, nor would he say whether police suspect foul play.
“We don’t know if Brooke left with someone voluntarily. We don’t know if Brooke is in another state camping and has no idea that this whole thing is going on,” Baker said. “We’re not ready to say that she was kidnapped, but we made the decision yesterday to put that Amber Alert out, take a very liberal interpretation of what kidnap meant.”
Bennett, of Braintree, was reported missing about 9 p.m. Wednesday, and the alert was issued Thursday afternoon, after officials determined the girl’s MySpace activity could be related.
On Friday, state police dive teams searched Sunset Lake, near where items belonging to Brooke were found a day earlier by a family member. Baker said the divers found nothing.
Looking at online activities
Investigators from the State Police, FBI and other agencies were trying to track the girl’s movements after she was dropped off by her uncle and cousin. A major focus of the investigation centered on her online activities.
“As we all know, warnings have gone out countless times, in this world that we live in today, there are folks that visit places, social networking spaces such as MySpace, whose intentions are not good. And they come from far away,” Baker said.
MySpace officials posted an Amber Alert on their Web site and were being helpful, Baker said.
“MySpace takes the safety of our users very seriously,” its chief security officer, Hemanshu Nigam, said in a statement released by the company. “We are assisting the Vermont State Police Department and cannot comment any further as it is an ongoing investigation.”