Missing Nadia Bloom leaves no sign for police searching for her

April 13th, 2010 by

WINTER SPRINGS — A book about a girl who loved the outdoors may have inspired 11-year-old Nadia Bloom to seek her own adventure in woods before she vanished Friday from her Winter Springs neighborhood.

Nadia, who has an autism-related disorder called Asperger’s Syndrome, read a book called “Lanie,” the story of a 10-year-old girl who explores her backyard and documents what she sees.

But Lanie never was reported missing.

On Monday, authorities scoured swampy woods, lakes and the gated Seminole County neighborhood of Barrington Estates for any clue to Nadia’s whereabouts. But there were none, Winter Springs Police Chief Kevin Brunelle said.

“This search, as extensive as it has been, has turned up nothing at all. No clothing. No backpack. No shoes. Nothing,” Brunelle said. “We have found nothing out there but wildlife and mud.”

Despite the lack of leads, Brunelle strongly confirmed: “I’m not willing to give up on her.”

The fifth-grader was last seen riding her bike in Barrington Estates off State Road 434. Her sister, Sophia, told police Nadia could be carrying a video camera in her backpack with the intent of making a nature video.

“We haven’t seen any common link with [the book and] what we are investigating,” Brunelle said. “The only thing we can figure with the book is that they are both nature lovers.”

Groups focus on Lake Jesup

Rescue groups focused their search in areas around Lake Jesup, one of Central Florida’s most alligator-infested bodies of water.

Her mother, Tanya Bloom, told officers Nadia had left her bicycle upright on its kick-stand, her helmet hanging on the handlebars, in the cul-de-sac of Wrentham Court. That’s less than a third of a mile from the family’s home in the 1400 block of Westcott Loop.

Working from an aerial photograph, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement organized a detailed grid search. By late afternoon, Brunelle said there had been 12 dives in six nearby bodies of water; 12 flights encompassing more than 12 hours utilizing heat-seeking radar; and search crews and scent-sniffing search dogs re-scouring areas previously searched.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office mounted patrol also joined the search.

Searchers initially thought Nadia took with her the adventure book, which is based on the latest doll from the American Girl doll company. Officers later found it at the girl’s home.

In the 100-page book, the main character, Lanie, fills her backpack with supplies, including a sleeping bag, flashlight, tarp, water bottle and a pillow. She spends the night in her backyard while her parents are home. She is upset over her friend having fun in Indonesia and her aunt being in Costa Rica.

“Maybe I wasn’t in the Costa Rican jungle or the Indonesian rain forest, but my backyard was still full of beauty and mystery and things to explore,” Lanie says in the book. “Maybe I could have an adventure right here in my own backyard.”

The book’s message is that girls don’t have to travel to far-off places for adventures — they can learn about nature in their own backyards, American Girl spokeswoman Julie Parks said.

Did Nadia want her own adventure?

Nadia’s parents have not spoken with the media since their daughter was reported missing.

At least one family friend is worried Nadia wandered out into the woods because her younger sister, Sophia, went on a trip Friday to the Everglades with her father, Jeff Bloom, and her fellow Brownies.

“I think Nadia had planned her own adventure,” said Tracy McCoy, a family friend.

This is not the first time Nadia has wandered off, officials said.

Brunelle said Nadia had left her classmates once during a school field trip, but a teacher brought her back to the group.

Parks said the company was deeply saddened about Nadia’s disappearance. “Our heart goes out to the family,” she said. “Nowhere in the story do we encourage them to go off by themselves,” she said.

It is unclear whether Nadia’s medical condition played any role in her disappearance.

Leslie Gavin, a clinical psychologist and chief of the division of behavior pediatrics at Nemours Children’s Clinic, said people with the Asperger’s Syndrome often have a lot of anxiety.

“If she thought that she would be in a lot of trouble or these people were not known to her, she might try to hide,” Gavin said.

12 hours in the air, 12 dives

Brunelle said the agency’s K-9 dogs tracked her scent into the woods near Lake Jesup, but found nothing.

Searchers in helicopters have spent more than 12 hours hovered over the area, but could see little through the thick canopy of trees. Deputies on horseback searched woods near Nadia’s home. Brunelle said 12 dives in six nearby bodies found nothing.

Searchers are operating under a theory that Nadia could survive at least 96 hours without food or water.

“I have a lot of experts out there that are helping me get through this. Those experts are telling me that we are in the live-search phase because feasibly, somebody could still be alive out there,” Brunelle said. “We are not in a rush to change this.”

Dive teams conducted 12 dives in six bodies of water, most of them near where the girl’s bicycle was found. They have used sonar and cameras to search other bodies of water. None of those bodies of water had any alligators over three-feet long, said Lt. Jeff Hudson of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Bethany Piotrowski, who runs the gift shop at the Black Hammock Adventure airboat rides, said there are about 12,000 alligators in the lake.

Hudson’s agency has searched along the shore of Lake Jesup from State Road 417 west to the Black Hammock Fish Camp and found nothing, he said. There are some areas near the shore where the water is usually a foot deep and is not six feet deep, he said. The only way Nadia could have reached those areas would have been to swim, he said.

During the overnight hours, when searchers are out of the area, the Seminole County Sheriff’s helicopter has logged more than 12 hours using heat-searching technology and has detected only animals, Brunelle said.

Sexual offenders, predators interviewed

As part of the investigation, officers are speaking with sexual offenders and predators who live nearby, Brunelle said.

FDLE’s database shows 27 predators and offenders living in a 5-mile radius of the area where Nadia had disappeared.

Deputies with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office already have interviewed several of these predators and offenders who have been “very cooperative and have let us search their homes,” Brunelle said.

Officials are turning civilians away from the search area because they are hindering the investigation. Brunelle said one man lost himself in the woods and called 911 operators. Police had to divert their search efforts for the child to look for the lost man.

He said eight civilians were escorted out of the woods and the others have been turned away.

Officials at Lawton Elementary in Oviedo, the school Nadia attends, had grief counselors available for students Monday morning. It was the first day of school after Seminole County students returned from their spring break vacation.

Outside the school, Jacqueline Green said she is heartbroken about the disappearance. Green said she has known Nadia’s family for years.

“My heart just goes out to them,” Green said while dropping off her grandchild at Lawton Elementary. “[Lake Jesup] is so infested with snakes and alligators, I hope she is OK.”

Green said she’s talked with her grandchildren about the dangers of wandering off.

“We just need to pray for her.”

Amy L. Edwards and Bianco Prieto of the Sentinel staff contributed to this story.

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