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17 FBI agents to help in search for missing Alaska girl

This missing person poster released by the Alaska State Troopers shows Ashley Johnson-Barr, who was last seen leaving Rainbow Park in Kotzebue, Alaska, Sept. 6, 2018, wearing a pink sweater and jeans. A search with multiple FBI agents gave no sign of Johnson-Barr, who went missing in a remote, largely Inupiat Eskimo town north of the arctic circle on Alaska’s west coast. Now authorities are investigating whether foul play was involved. (The Alaska State Troopers via AP)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A search that includes 17 FBI agents yielded no sign of a 10-year-old girl went missing in a remote, largely Inupiat Eskimo town north of the arctic circle on Alaska’s west coast, and calls on the authorities to investigate whether foul play was involved.

Ashley Johnson-Barr was last seen playing with friends in a local park in Kotzebue about a week ago. Her mobile phone was later found in a half-mile from the Rainbow Park, in the opposite direction as her home in the community of about 3,100 people.

Since the disappearance, volunteers, Kotzebue police and others have carried out searches. A coast guard helicopter and planes of the wildlife troopers also are used.

The Alaska State Troopers, the leading organization in the case, said Thursday that the authorities are shifting the focus of a search and rescue mission to a police investigation. A search will also continue in the coastal areas and on the access to water, troopers said.

Lt. David Hanson said in a statement the probe also is looking at whether a crime would be involved. He said that authorities also need the public’s help.

“We are convinced that there is someone in this community knows what happened with Ashley and needs to come forward and share that information with us,” said Hanson.

Kotzebue, 26 miles (42 kilometers) north of the arctic circle, 550 miles (885 kilometers) northwest of Anchorage, is a regional hub for northwest Alaska villages.

The city is built on a 3-km-long (5-kilometer-long) spit, and many people there live a subsistence lifestyle far removed from the state’s limited road network, with 26 miles (42 kilometers) from the local dirt roads which the vehicles in the warmer months, and snowmobiles in the winter. The community has a chronically high unemployment, the school district, state, and local hospital are major employers.

Dozens of people gathered Wednesday evening at Rainbow Park to pray and to share hugs and tears about the missing girl, an honor student, Anchorage television station KTUU reported.

The girl of the family could not be reached by The Associated Press on Thursday. But her father, Walter “Scotty” Barr said KTUU in Kotzebue on Wednesday that he did not know about the prayer meeting in advance.

“It comes to the love of the community and everyone who has helped,” he said.

The girl has attended the Sunday school at the Kotzebue Bible Baptist Church. Pastor Tim Ungry said that the church is taking food for the family and praying for them.

“They keep strong, but they have a lot of encouragement and prayer,” Ungry said.

The FBI involved in the case at the request of the germans, according to the FBI spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier. A total of 17 agents are currently assigned to the investigation, arrives this week to help, some traveling from the Lower 48. Ten troopers and three Kotzebue police work on the case.

Feger-Pellessier said earlier this week that it is not unusual for the agency to implement a range of agents.

On Thursday, she referred questions about the case to troopers.

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