Grandmother still searches for Mary Love

Thursday, July 2, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mary Love
They are looking for Mary Love, tramping through yet another woods. But the professional searchers have stopped calling the little girl's name. She has been missing more than a week.

Other places have been searched -- the woods behind her home in Springwood Village apartments in Colerain Township, storage areas, a cornfield, back yards. Tuesday, officials chased a tip to an apartment complex a few miles from where the 6-year-old disappeared.

"Hold on Mary," reads a sign on a neighbor's apartment. "Help is on the way." Pink ribbons. Posters.

You talk about nightmares. This is it. This child didn't come home for dinner, has disappeared. She was last seen -- for sure -- at 6:30 p.m. June 24.

Wednesday, members of Hamilton County's new Urban Search and Rescue Task Force (USAR) were pushing through underbrush and sliding down muddy gullies in Colerain Township's Triple Creek Park. Very businesslike. And very quiet.

Steve Ashbrock, leader of the USAR search, says carefully that they are looking for clues in the disappearance of Mary Jennifer Love, 3 1/2 feet tall and weighing 48 pounds. "She was wearing a pink bathing suit," the searchers are told before they begin. "We have no reason to believe that has changed."

Such a little person and so much ground, 110 acres this time, including a couple of abandoned houses and maybe an abandoned well. Fred Gardiner, the groundskeeper, says it's rough terrain.

"Hydrate yourselves," the search team is advised. Later they are fed beef and noodles by the Red Cross and sprayed for poison ivy from a truck labeled "hazardous materials."

The sun is warm but not hot. It's a beautiful day, the sky impossibly blue, clouds white and fluffy. It seems disrespectful. This is a dark time.

Media-free zone

The search team works from a grid mapped out minutes before on a laptop computer. They are carrying cell phones and walkie-talkies. Compasses hang from their necks on red cords, and some are wearing bottles of water strapped to their backs. The search plan is on a magnetic board behind the area outlined in yellow crime scene tape.

Command post? This is, I think, just a media-free zone. The waiting is long and the reporters many.

"We've interviewed everybody but the dogs," one said. I am not proud. I look for the dog. But the dog is out in the field with the other searchers, not for the first time.

Stubborn hope

Mary Love's grandmother, Jeanette Love, arrives at the park. One of the men comes forward to talk to her. He spreads his hands. Nothing. "They are going to brief me in a few minutes," she says. "Yes, I am still hopeful." She is not weepy or dramatic. Just tired. She hasn't slept much.

"I think it must have been someone Mary knows," Ms. Love says. "She would not go with a stranger. She knows better."

Present tense.

Jeanette Love is nobody's fool. Her narrow eyes are wise, shaded by a blue ballcap. Retired from T.J. Maxx, where she was a district secretary, she is the organizer of volunteers -- uncles, cousins, neighbors and strangers. She has 14 grandchildren. Fourteen, she says firmly. Counting Mary.

The professionals know what they know. "The sheriff's department is processing a ton of leads," a spokesman says. The grandmother -- an amateur -- keeps looking, putting more miles on her white Fila sneakers, passing out more posters.

And sometimes she calls Mary's name.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at

Another search fails to find child