'Autumn, come home,' South Jersey father pleads

Family and friends of Autumn Pasquale gather in Clayton, Gloucester County, on Monday night. The 12-year-old last communicated with family on Saturday afternoon.
Family and friends of Autumn Pasquale gather in Clayton, Gloucester County, on Monday night. The 12-year-old last communicated with family on Saturday afternoon. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 24, 2012

PICTURES OF Autumn Pasquale's freckled face were everywhere Monday, a week before her 13th birthday, her photocopied smiles covering all corners of a small South Jersey town like the fall leaves. Her father's trembling voice called out to her in the night, wherever she is.

"Autumn, come home!" a tearful Anthony Pasquale said Monday at a candlelight vigil outside the borough hall in Clayton, Gloucester County. "Come home."

The vigil, attended by hundreds from all over South Jersey, ended another frustrating day for the family of Autumn Pasquale, who's been missing since Saturday when she pedaled off from her home on High Street. The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office said the Clayton Middle School student's last contact was made in a text message from her cellphone at 2:27 p.m. the same day. Her father called police about 9:30 p.m. to report her missing.

Since then, more than 200 law-enforcement officers from 20 agencies, including the FBI, have been looking for the girl in Clayton, a rural, blue-collar suburb 25 miles south of Philadelphia. Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton said his office had interviewed 75 people, including many of Pasquale's friends and family members. A $10,000 reward is being offered for anyone who can help find her.

"There haven't been any breaks; there haven't been any stops. It's been a continuous investigation from 9:30 p.m. to the present," Dalton said as Pasquale's parents stood by his side.

Dalton declined to say what Pasquale said in that text message or to whom it was sent but said it was no cause of concern at the time.

As more and more volunteers arrived to search for Pasquale and hand out fliers, investigators had to ask them to stay out of the many wooded areas in and around Clayton to give K-9 dogs a better chance at picking up a scent. A New Jersey State Police helicopter made numerous flights over Scotland Run Park, a 1,000-acre recreation area where she was last seen. Fox 29 said Monday night that investigators were searching the park's 80-acre Wilson Lake as well.

Just before 4 p.m., investigators entered a house behind a bar in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, that's down the street from the lake, where a K-9 dog reportedly had picked up a scent. The owner said he got a call from police at work in Mount Laurel and was asked to come home. "They said they wanted to search my house," the man said.

The man, whom the Daily News is not identifying, also said he could understand why authorities might have deemed him "suspicious." His back window was broken recently, he said, and he is friendly with many teen girls on Facebook because he has a young sister. The man was prepared to give a statement to reporters, but his attorney advised against it.

Authorities left the home after about 20 minutes.

Bernie Weisenfeld, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, declined to comment on the search but said his office would follow up on every lead. Earlier, Dalton said that there were no "persons of interest" in Pasquale's disappearance but that authorities could not rule out foul play. Pasquale's family said she had no history of running away, although one classmate searching near Scotland Run Park told the Daily News that Pasquale was upset over a recent breakup with a boyfriend.

Elsewhere, other searchers said they simply couldn't stand by in the streets, and continued to scour the fields, forests and parks on the outskirts of Clayton.

"Autumn! Autumn!" the men yelled as the sun began to set.

"I don't have any kids but if I did, I would hope someone would be here looking for her. That's why I'm here," said Tom McGuigan, 36, of nearby Washington Township.

McGuigan and other searchers called police when they found a Nissan Altima parked in a field roughly 100 feet from a road in Clayton. Several K-9 units arrived moments later, and a man wearing a Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office jacket told them to step away from the vehicle. The car belonged to a man who owned the property.

"I'm out here looking too," the man said when reached by cellphone.

One Clayton police officer, who asked not to be identified, said that his office had been inundated with calls from around the country and that units had been flying all over the area following up on tips.

"We just had to stop a psychic from running into the woods," he said.

At the vigil, Pasquale's uncle Paul Spadafora said everyone was exhausted and unsure what Tuesday would bring. He said he hopes Pasquale will celebrate her 13th birthday Monday at home.

"Lord," he said, holding up his candle, "please bring Autumn home."

Autumn Pasquale is white with blue eyes and blond hair often worn in a ponytail or a bun. She is about 5 feet 3 inches tall and 120 pounds.

She was last seen wearing a yellow "Clayton Soccer" shirt, Navy-blue shorts over navy-blue sweatpants with blue high-top sneakers. She was wearing a silver or light-gray backpack with "Reckless" across it.

Her white Odyssey BMX-style bicycle has a white seat with black guns on it, with a silver front rim and black rear rim.

Anyone with information about her disappearance should call 856-881-2300.

Contact Jason Nark at narkj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5916. Follow him on Twitter @JasonNark.

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