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Community helps search 2 neighborhoods for missing 5-year-old

Amber Alert issued for Taylor Rose Williams; community rallies to search

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two words can strike fear in the heart of any community: missing child.

Dozens of volunteers swarmed the Brentwood neighborhood of Jacksonville on Wednesday after police announced those words. Taylor Rose Williams, 5, was reportedly last seen around midnight at her Ivy Street home.

Investigators have found no sign of the child, but as the sun rose Friday morning and the search entered its 49th hour, police and volunteers continued their efforts to find Taylor.

The command center was taken down Thursday, the same day Sheriff Mike Williams announced that Taylor's mother, Brianna Williams, was no longer cooperating with the investigation.

Neighbors and concerned residents said that despite not seeing any emergency responders in the area early Friday, they were still planning to walk up and down the streets to do everything they can to find the little girl.  

"I have five girls. There's no way that I would be able to sleep. I wouldn't be able to rest," volunteer searcher Latoya Coleman said. "This isn't even my baby and I had a restless night last night, so there's no way I'm going to stop."

Many asked the community to keep searching for Taylor and not to give up hope.

"Keep searching, keep sharing her photo, keep saying her name, keep the togetherness coming. It's going to take all of us to find a sweet baby, Taylor Rose, JSO can't do it by themselves," Latasha Hobbs said. "I am so thankful for the effort of JSO. They have nonstop been searching for this beautiful little girl, and I applaud them for what they are doing and their services. It's amazing, it's a great team out here looking for her."

The Amber Alert remains in effect. Sheriff Williams said hundreds of tips have come in, and he asked anyone who saw Brianna Williams and her daughter together in the last six months to call 904-630-0500.

Neighbors, strangers and parents with children the same age -- most of whom have never met Taylor -- showed up to help spread the word with flyers, search bushes and abandoned homes, scour the woods and drive through the streets shouting her name.

Police also began searching the Southside Villas Apartments off Southside Boulevard where Taylor used to live with her mother. While officers searched the ponds and dumpsters, people in that area helped as much as they could.

"It's very, very sad," searcher Michele Ajobiewe said through tears. "But hopefully we can come up with something."

VIDEO: Community gathers to search for missing 5-year-old
PHOTOS: Investigators, volunteers search for missing girl
TIMELINE: Key events in the search for missing Jacksonville girl
RELATED: What we know about Taylor's family 

"It's a child, and we love the kids, and all of us are mothers and grandmothers here," said Kim Davis, who was helping search near the original scene in Brentwood. "I have 12 grandchildren and 10 of them are girls, and that really hurt me to see that baby missing. It don't make any sense."

Among the searchers was the grandmother of Kamiyah Mobley, who was kidnapped from a Jacksonville hospital in 1998 and found safe living in South Carolina 18 years later.

Many of the volunteers were visibly emotional and anxious as the hours ticked by without any sign of Taylor. They all said they would do whatever it takes to bring her home safely.

"I would want everybody to be out here trying to help my child," said one man who is a father of nine children. "We've got things going on in our personal lives, but you have to take time to get out here and help our people. This is our community."

Misty Townsend said she came out to help search because the last time she got an Amber Alert in her area, she didn't. It was for Cherish Perrywinkle.

The 8-year-old was found raped and strangled the next morning in a marsh.

"I remember coming home from work that night and hearing the Amber Alert, and in my head I said, 'Maybe I should go look around,' and I didn't. Then the next day, it was right down the street where they found her body, and I just always felt like -- not to say that I would have found her or saved her, but I just always felt like, 'What if?'" Townsend said. "So this time, being so close to home, I wanted to make sure I just came out and looked -- because you never know."

Townsend said she's trying to keep herself from thinking negatively.

"Your mind always goes to the worst. I don't want that. I want us to find her and everyone do what they can to help," she said.

One woman even traveled from Ponte Vedra with her son to look for the little girl.

"I came out here because I don't know what it's like to be in a situation like this," said Janice Maeder.

Volunteers walked block after block, sometimes stopping to pray.

One woman driving by saw a group on a corner praying, stopped her car and jumped out to join them.

"I didn't even know her. She was a nice lady to stop and pray with all of us," Melissa Henderson said. "That's all we can do is pray."

As crews took down police tape and drove away from the command post in Brentwood late Thursday evening, community members continued to stop by. They said regardless of first responders not staying at the location overnight, they were going to walk up and down the streets and do everything they can to find Taylor. 

One woman said she has a daughter, and Taylor's disappearance hits close to home.

"As a mom myself, I'm not going to give up, and like my friend was saying last night, you don't have to know a person to help them. It could have been my daughter, it could have been anybody that I'm close with and know," searcher Carolyn Thomas said.

Even though there's not yet evidence of a crime, Crime Stoppers is offering a $4,000 reward for information about Taylor's whereabouts. Callers to 866-845-TIPS can remain anonymous and be eligible for the reward.


About the Authors:

Allyson Henning

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.

Brittany Muller

Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.