Reward offered, vigil in Autumn Pasquale case

Autumn Pasquale

October 22, 2012 5:56:31 PM PDT
Hundreds of people at a candlelight vigil sang and prayed for a South Jersey girl who's been missing since Saturday.

The vigil for 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale was held Monday in front of Borough Hall in Clayton. The solemn ceremony marked the end of the day for many volunteers who distributed fliers and searched for her.

Autumn went for a bike ride around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and hasn't been seen since. She lives in Clayton with her father, her two siblings, her father's girlfriend and the girlfriend's children.

Police say she was wearing blue sweatpants over blue shorts, a yellow t-shirt with "Clayton Soccer" on front and bright high top sneakers. She was last seen riding a 20" BMX Odyssey bicycle on West High Street.

Pasquale, whose 13th birthday is Oct. 29, has blonde hair with pink highlights, stands about 5'2" tall and weighs 120 pounds.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Clayton Police at (856) 881-2301 or the NJSP Missing Persons Unit at 800-709-7090.

About 200 law enforcement officials and hundreds more volunteers searched the area on Monday.

Prosecutor Sean Dalton said that 75 people had been interviewed, but investigators did not have any suspects or a sure sense of whether the quiet BMX biking enthusiast had left on her own or was the victim of foul play.

With the girl's parents flanking him while holding back tears, Dalton announced a $10,000 reward for information that leads authorities to the girl. The parents - Anthony Pasquale and Jennifer Cornwall - did not speak at the news conference.

A friend, 11-year-old DeAnna Edwards-McMillen, said Autumn was at her house Friday night and that they exchanged text messages on Saturday. She said she received the last one at 1:22 p.m. and didn't believe it was intended for her. She said it read, "don't be like that."

DeAnna said her friend was nice and easy to be around. "She didn't hate people," she said in a tearful interview with The Associated Press, "and people didn't hate her."

DeAnna's mother, Debi McMillen, said that Autumn was often at their house and that she always went home before her 8 p.m. curfew.

The last known communication was in a text message she sent around 2:30 p.m. Dalton would not say who received the message or what it contained. But he said that there was nothing alarming or unusual about it.

It wasn't until about 9:30 p.m. that she was reported missing - 90 minutes past her 8 p.m. curfew, said Paul Spadofora, a family spokesman, the uncle of Autumn's father and the girl's godfather.

Dalton said 50 county and local law enforcement officers were on the case shortly after she was reported missing.

By Monday, the number grew fourfold as FBI and state police got involved in a search that has employed helicopters, horses, bloodhounds and computer experts. The computer experts were charged with seeing if any information about her whereabouts shows up on Facebook or elsewhere online.

Dalton said investigators accounted for all the registered sex offenders in the area, interviewed them and were searching their properties.

The weary crew of volunteers, meanwhile, was looking in area malls, handing out flyers at intersections in Clayton's tiny downtown and searching wherever they could and, when they got a chance, eating donated food set up at a church in town.

One volunteer, Butch Diggs, took off work to help. He said his daughter is a friend of Autumn's from school and cheerleading. The girl who's the center of the search now is usually the quietest kid in the room, he said. "She's a good kid," he said.

Diggs, who had fliers with Autumn's picture taped to the side of his van, said he wanted to search in the woods that surround Clayton but that volunteers were not being allowed to.

Dalton said that's because adding more scents to the woods might make it harder for dogs to search there.

Early Monday, Prosecutor's Office spokesman Bernie Weisenfeld said the girl's bike had not been found. By the afternoon, Dalton would not say whether it had been located.

Spadofora said that he still was hopeful that his goddaughter would be home soon so the whole community could celebrate her birthday next week.

Volunteers by the hundred- many from Clayton, but others from communities a half-hour drive or more away - handed out fliers Sunday and Monday. By 5 p.m. Monday, town officials were thanking them - but asking them not to do any more canvassing for the rest of the evening.

PHOTOS: The search for Autumn