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Investigation: Oregon City Watches for Clues to Fate of Missing Girls

OREGON CITY, Ore. - The people in Oregon City are looking, and they are watching.

They are looking for Ashley Marie Pond and Miranda Diane Gaddis, 13-year-old girls who disappeared from the same apartment complex here in recent months. They are watching for the person who may have abducted them, searching for clues in the sketchy psychological portrait that the federal and local authorities released this week.

Probably a man, the investigators said. Probably someone who has displayed a high degree of interest in the local media's relentless coverage of the case. He (or possibly she) might have changed appearance recently, perhaps by changing hairstyles or hair color. The person may have appeared extremely tired or sleepy, or missed work, especially on the days the girls disappeared. He may be nervous or irritable.

"It's very generalized, very vague," said the Rev. Andy Anquoe, a pastor at the Oregon City Baptist Church. "It's just very frustrating not to know more, exactly what we're supposed to watch out for."

It is agonizing for the mothers of the two girls not to know more. They cling to the hope that the girls will be found alive, that they just ran away.

But few people here believe that is the case, especially since Ashley disappeared on Jan. 9, nearly two and a half months ago. Miranda, her fellow seventh grader at Gardiner Middle School and fellow resident of the Newell Creek Village apartments, disappeared on March 8. Neither packed clothes or did anything else indicating plans to run away.

At the apartment complex, home to some couples with families and to several single mothers (the mothers of both missing girl are estranged from the girls' fathers), a sense of terror and an eerie quiet are in the air, as two private security guards patrol the grounds and many parents keep their own children inside.

Bicycles, tricycles and scooters are scattered around the buildings and among the trees and lampposts bedecked with yellow ribbons, but no one seems to be riding them.

"There are usually kids all over outside, running around, screaming and doing the usual kid stuff," said Tori Lee, 25, the mother of Chase, 3, and Cheyenne, 1. "But not anymore."

A few families have moved away in recent weeks, but many residents of the complex in this Portland suburb say they cannot afford to move.

"I'd be out of here in a second if I could be," said a woman, who gave only her first name, Patricia, and said her daughter, a friend and classmate of the missing girls, was having nightmares about their disappearance. "But I don't have the money. My lease is up in July. Maybe we can move then."

While the case remains a mystery, plenty of tips are pouring in to the Oregon City Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which recently announced a $60,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the girls - or possibly their assailant.

"That person is under they eyes of everyone in this community right now," Charles Mathews, special agent in charge of the F.B.I. in Oregon, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"Every police officer is suspicious of you, and every action you take is being assessed and judged," Mr. Mathews said. "Someone out there right now who is listening to my words and seeing this press conference has information that will lead us to you. And we will find you, and we will arrest you."

At a benefit called the "I Hope You Dance Invitational" at Oregon City High School today fellow members of Ashley and Miranda's dance team, the Fallen Angels, performed, as did dance teams from nearby schools. The event, attended by hundreds of people wearing T-shirts and pins with photographs of the missing girls, raised about $6,000, organizers said. The money probably will be added to the reward fund.

For the fourth time in Ashley's case and the second in Miranda's, their story was featured on the television program "America's Most Wanted" on Saturday night, and the authorities hope this will produce useful leads in their investigation.

The police and the F.B.I. have already received at least 1,600 tips in the case and have interviewed nearly 1,000 people, including 90 percent of the registered sex offenders in the Portland area. Investigators and search dogs have combed the apartment complex and the surrounding woods for clues.

But no suspects have been identified. The girls' parents have been interviewed extensively, which is routine in cases of missing children, but nothing suggests they are suspected in the disappearances, though both girls' fathers have been in jail. (Miranda's father, Jason Gaddis, was in the Clackamas County Jail on a parole violation when she disappeared, the Oregon City police said.)

Miranda's mother, Michelle Duffey, who last saw her daughter on the morning of March 8 before leaving for her job as office manager at an engineering company, has made several televised pleas for any information that could lead to her daughter's return. Speaking on NBC's "Today" show recently, Ms. Duffey said she believed the girls were familiar with their abductor.

"We are all thinking it is someone they knew, because of the way the girls were, especially Miranda," she said. "It would have been a really big fight if it would have been someone she didn't know."

Speaking outside her apartment recently, Ms. Duffey, 34, was subdued, her eyes red from crying. "I'm grateful that the whole community is watching," she said. "I don't want anybody to ever have to go through this again."

Interviews with neighbors suggested that Ashley was the more reserved of the two, while Miranda, with a pierced tongue and navel and a fondness for brightly colored clothes, was more widely recognized at the complex. Each girl seems to have disappeared on the way to the school bus stop on South Beavercreek Road, perhaps a five-minute walk uphill from their homes. The bus stop could be reached by stairs, the apartment complex's driveway or a shortcut along a dirt path.

In each case, several hours passed before the school reported the girls' absences to their mothers, a lapse that, while not a violation of Oregon law, has prompted criticism.

The search goes on, with yellow ribbons and "Missing" fliers throughout Oregon City. At the news conference here on Wednesday, Mr. Mathews of the F.B.I. was asked if he believed the girls were still alive.

"I'm not going to get into speculating on that aspect," he said. "We have no information that would lead us to conclude that they are not. Based upon that, this investigation and the people who are working it are looking forward to a resolution of returning these girls alive."

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