Reward offered as search widens for missing NJ girl

Family and friends gather at the Clayton, New Jersey, Municipal Building to hold a vigil for Autumn Pasquale. Pasquale 12, went missing Oct. 20 while riding her bike to a friends house. Monday, "Uncle" Paul Spadford prays for Pasquale's safe return home while Pasquale's mom Jennifer comforts her sister Natalie. ( STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer )
Family and friends gather at the Clayton, New Jersey, Municipal Building to hold a vigil for Autumn Pasquale. Pasquale 12, went missing Oct. 20 while riding her bike to a friends house. Monday, "Uncle" Paul Spadford prays for Pasquale's safe return home while Pasquale's mom Jennifer comforts her sister Natalie. ( STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer )
Posted: October 23, 2012

She doesn't know Autumn Pasquale.

But Sheila Burns, a mother and special education schoolteacher, drove 40 minutes from Voorhees to join the search for the missing 12-year-old Gloucester County girl.

"I just hope they find her," she said, eyes welling with tears. ". . . I would want everybody looking for my daughter."

The search for Autumn - missing since Saturday after she left home on a white BMX bike - widened Monday into an all-out effort by relatives, friends, and residents who handed out fliers and canvassed the girl's Clayton neighborhood and surrounding communities.

They were joined by 200 officers from 20 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies as well as State Police dogs and helicopters.

At the same time, authorities announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to Autumn: $5,000 from her family and a matching amount from the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office.

"No persons of interest" had been identified, said Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton, adding that area residents' "outpouring on behalf of this family has been phenomenal."

As dusk approached Monday, Autumn's uncle, Paul Spadafora, asked volunteers to end the search for the day and attend an 8 p.m. vigil at Clayton Borough Hall.

"We're going to pray for the family," he said. "We're going to pray for the safe return of my goddaughter.

"They're [authorities] going to find Autumn," he said. "They're going to bring her home.

"We're going to have one of the biggest you-know-what birthday parties for her next Monday" when she turns 13, he said.

Autumn was last seen at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, pedaling her bicycle from her West High Street home, where she lives with her father, her two siblings, her father's girlfriend, and the girlfriend's children. She was reported missing at 9:30 p.m. after failing to meet a family-imposed curfew.

Since then, Dalton said, authorities have interviewed about 75 relatives, friends, and residents as they have sought clues to the girl's whereabouts.

Hundreds of officers and community volunteers canvassed Clayton, Monroe, Glassboro, and Elk, Washington, and Franklin Townships as part of ever-widening efforts.

Authorities also interviewed registered sex-offenders, Dalton said.

The girl's parents, Anthony Pasquale, a letter carrier, and Jennifer Cornwell of Cherry Hill, stood silently on either side of the prosecutor during Monday's news conference. Pasquale appeared to be overcome with emotion as he left the room.

One of Autumn's best friends, DeAnna Edwards-McMillen, 11, said the missing girl had been visiting her Clayton house until 6:15 p.m. Friday and last communicated with her by text message at 1:22 p.m. Saturday. Autumn sometimes used her BMX bike to jump ramps in the driveway there.

"We were talking about Christmas presents," said the fifth grader, who broke off texting Saturday because she had to go shopping with her father.

"She's nice, she's friendly, she's easy to be friends with," DeAnna added. "She doesn't hate people; I don't think she's hated by people."

DeAnna's mother, Debi McMillen, said Autumn left before her 8 p.m. curfew and "was never late going home. She always had contact with her father, so this is very out of the ordinary to be missing - not like her."

Autumn's last text message was sent at 2:30 p.m., according to authorities, who did not say who had received it.

The missing girl is 5-foot-4, weighs 120 pounds, and has blond hair and blue eyes.

She is a seventh grader at Clayton Middle School, where her absence was also felt Monday. Clayton Public School Superintendent David T. Lindenmuth said the district's hopes and prayers were with the family.

"When one member of our family is hurting, we are all hurting," Lindenmuth said.

Autumn and her classmate and friend R.J. Doughty, 12, had talked Friday about going to his hockey game on Saturday, said R.J.'s mother, Michelle Doughty.

Autumn told him she did not know if she could go to the game because of other family plans, the mother said. She was supposed to call R.J. but never did.

The girl's disappearance affected many area residents - such Burns, 45 - who volunteered their time to search.

Burns, a mother of a 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old twins, on Monday passed out fliers in Glassboro, stuffing them in mailboxes near Glassboro High School.

"I don't care if I don't go to sleep," Burns said, adding that she was willing to look as long as it took. " . . . We ran out of fliers really quick."

Burns planned to resume canvassing Tuesday.

"Until they find her, I will stay committed. I'm hoping that they find her OK."

A group of residents from Clayton and Williamstown met at 10 a.m. at a church next to the Clayton police station, then moved into the community to hand out 700 fliers over the next three hours.

"I said to my husband this morning, 'If this were our child, I would want everyone there for us,' " said Michelle Mathews, 41, a Williamstown mother of two - a 7-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl.

She and a neighbor, Linda Thurston, 37, of Williamstown, accompanied their children to a school bus stop Monday, then joined others who were passing out fliers and looking for Autumn.

Clayton police officers began their search Saturday night after Autumn was reported missing. A countywide Child Abduction Response Team coordinated by detectives at the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office joined the effort.

The search continued Sunday night and through Monday, according to the prosecutor's office. Among the places being checked Monday was Scotland Run Park, a 1,000-acre area with a lake in Clayton.

Authorities also called in a State Police helicopter and bloodhounds.

When last seen, Autumn was wearing navy blue sweatpants, a yellow "Clayton Soccer" T-shirt, and bright blue high-top sneakers. She also had a backpack with "Reckless" written on it.

Anthony Pasquale told reporters he believed his daughter had headed to a friend's house. He became worried when he discovered she never made it there.

"This is not like her," Pasquale told news crews. "She would have been home 11 o'clock this morning [Sunday] if she slept over a friend's house.

"Everybody is working together to try to find her," he said. "We all love her and we just want her to come home."

A Find Autumn Pasquale Facebook page has been set up at https://www.facebook.com/FindAutumn. And a Twitter hashtag is being used to connect messages: #helpfindautumn.

Anyone with information should call the Clayton Police at 856-331-2300.


Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

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