Local News

Crowd of volunteers turns out in Onslow County to search for Mariah Woods

Posted November 30, 2017 12:34 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 1:40 p.m. EDT

— Crowds of volunteers turned out early Friday morning to help authorities search for an Onslow County girl who has been missing for five days.

The line of more than 200 people spilled out of Onslow Community Church around 8 a.m. Friday when authorities asked for help following a fourth full day of searching that turned up no signs of 3-year-old Mariah Kay Woods.

Mariah's mother told the Onslow County Sheriff's Office that she last saw her daughter at their family home, at 2404 Dawson Cabin Road in Jacksonville, on Sunday night when she put her to bed.

She called the sheriff's office around 6 a.m. Monday to report her missing.

To keep from losing hope, the community came together Thursday night outside the Onslow County Sheriff's Office with candles.

"I think there is a little bit of everything right now – frustration, hope, sadness, speculation," Blake Brown said. "I'm a mom, and I can't imagine something happening to my kid."

Mariah is white with light brown hair and blue eyes. She is about 2 feet, 9 inches tall and 30 pounds.

On Thursday, vehicles from the sheriff’s office, police department and at least one with a boat trailer, could be seen on the side of U.S. Highway 17, near Southwest creek. Agents with the FBI joined the search at about 3 p.m.

The section of the creek where the search was focused was just a few miles from where the child was last seen.

During a news conference on Thursday afternoon, authorities made a plea for continued help from the public.

"I am so grateful for the outpouring of support from our wonderful community," said Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller.

Miller said Mariah's family was "cooperating" with investigators.

Stanley Meador, a FBI supervisor, said agents at Marine Corps Base Quantico, outside Washington, D.C., are currently testing "items of interest" in this case. He did not elaborate on what those items were, or where they were found.

"Our partners with the U.S. Marine Corps provided an Osprey to transport the items directly to Quantico, so testing could begin immediately. Those items will be a priority for processing so we can determine whether or not they contain any evidentiary value," he said.

Meador said his goal is to talk to everyone who lives in the family's neighborhood.

"We have spoken to many of you, but not everyone. Some people may not have been home when we tried to talk to them, and we will continue to contact everyone in the neighborhood to determine if they have any information that can help us find Mariah," he said.

Authorities said there will a volunteer search on Friday morning for those who want to help in the effort to find the girl.

Anyone who is interested in assisting in the search is asked to arrive at the Dawson Community Church, at 2311 Dawson Cabin Road, in Jacksonville, on Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Volunteers were urged to wear close-toed shoes and to bring their own water.

Since Monday, an army of volunteers and law enforcement investigators have flooded the area near the home to look for Mariah. A person wearing a protective suit was also seen searching under the home.

As the search for Mariah continues, many around the community are turning to prayer.

“We needed to do something special,” said Pastor Cliff Wilson of Folkston Original Free Will Baptist Church. “They are having some rough moments. They are doing all they can do, and they feel helpless.”

The sheriff also asked anyone who has had contact with Mariah's family since Sunday to call his office, at 910-455-3113, and for the public to search their yards and outbuildings.

"If you have a shed, a barn, a wooded area, go take a look," he said during a news conference on Wednesday. "Call us immediately if you see something out of the ordinary."

Authorities have not said much about the investigation, but said they do not believe there is an ongoing threat to the general public.

"Any particulars about what we find, what we did not find, that is going to be close hold. We are not releasing it to the public at this point," Miller said. "We believe this is a focused incident at this point."

Mariah's parents are divorced, and her father, Alex Woods, said that while his daughter is living with her mother right now, the last few days have been extremely hard.

"Like hell. Like a nightmare. This ain't true. I mean, really," he said. "I hope and pray that I can get my daughter and hold her again. Tell her that I love her and to see the rest of my kids and be a family. I got to think the best."

Woods said it is hard to describe how he is feeling.

"It's just so overwhelming. I don't know how to put it into words," he said.

Anyone with information about Mariah is asked to call the Onslow County Sheriff's Office 910-455-3113 or call 911.

Another news conference was scheduled for Friday at 3:30 p.m.