GARY — Dozens of police officers, family members and volunteers scoured the city Sunday afternoon for 36-year-old South Chicago Heights resident Jessica Flores, a mother of six who is believed to have been murdered.
Police from across Northwest Indiana and Illinois used ATVs, cadaver dogs and a drone to comb the city of Gary for Flores, whose youngest child is just 8 years old. Officers again searched around her last known location and other areas, but did not find her before disbanding the latest search party Sunday evening, Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit Detective Ed Gonzalez said.
Flores disappeared after being last seen in February with Melina Cottrell, 26, of Gary, who also went missing. Cottrell was found alive, but Drew “Tiny” Carter III, 41, of Gary, was charged with the murder of Flores after a witness told police Carter shot Flores with a revolver in a car when Flores told him he could not have sex with the witness.
Family members have held out hope she is still alive, but police said a blood pattern found in a burned-out car where some of Flores' possessions were recovered suggest an arterial wound that would have almost certainly been fatal without immediate medical attention.
Gary Police Department Deputy Chief Brian Evans said the search party looked around Carter's home near 10th Avenue and Clark Street, the berm along the Little Calumet River, and at the Jordan Mobile Home Park off Ridge Road.
"At the park, we're going to knock and announce. It's residential. We're going to ask permission," Evans said while briefing officers gathered at noon Sunday at the Gary Public Safety Facility. "We're going to talk to the community. The ATVs will do the berm and the back of the area, along with anything we can find with the drone."
Officers and volunteers searched streets, ditches, swampland, railroad tracks and vacant buildings Sunday afternoon.
"Nobody searches alone," Evans said. "There are abandoned properties and rough terrain in that area. Watch for hazards."
Police searched some of the same areas before, including with a helicopter.
"We searched the area before, which is very, very rural," Evans said. "Drones can't fly in that area because it's too close to the one buffer zone of the airport. We searched the area in the past, but we want to do it again because we have a large team. We've got more people. We can cover more ground that way. When we get to the area, we'll break up in teams."
Police earlier did a wide area search between 10th Avenue and 5th Avenue and Chase Street and Clark Street, said Lake County/Gary Homicide Unit Detective Kris Adams.
"We also checked the Ambridge Mann area, which is a large area," he said. "We used a helicopter last time. The helicopter obviously searched more than that. They searched the entire area between 10th and 15th, and between Chase and Colfax. They did a flyover of Ambridge-Mann. They did a flyover of the whole 5th Avenue corridor from Chase Street to the city limit. It was a very wide area search."
Initial searches were based on specific intel police have received, but on Sunday they tried a more blanket search that included areas suggested by the family, Gonzalez said.
Gary firefighters and police officers with Gary, Lake County, South Chicago Heights and Porter County Search and Rescue all took part in the search party Sunday.
Multiple police agencies throughout Lake and Porter counties, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, have helped with the investigation or volunteered resources.
"We've basically worked on this case virtually nonstop since the very beginning," Adams said. "It's been crazy. Multiple hours of overtime, not seeing our kids, not seeing our families, but that's how it goes."
South Chicago Heights police have repeatedly sent officers and even recruits to Gary to assist with the investigation, including Sunday's search.
"We're all in this effort together to find Jessica Flores," Sergeant Jake Kozinski said. "We come out with six, seven guys at a time from my department to assist in finding Jessica."
Anyone with information about the location of Flores' body or the homicide is asked to call Gonzales at 219-755-3855. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.