Coast Guard suspends search for toddler missing from Rockport beach

ROCKPORT—Local residents joined authorities today in a desperate search for a 2-year-old Gloucester girl who went missing while her family was visiting a Rockport beach.

Caleigh Anne Harrison
Family photo

Authorities say the girl, Caleigh Anne Harrison, was playing with her mother, 4-year-old sister, and the family dog when she went missing shortly after noon Thursday at Long Beach.

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The Coast Guard pulled out from the search around 8:30 a.m. today after searching 248 square miles of area in three vessels, Coast Guard public affairs specialist Adam Stanton said. Coast Guard officers are standing by to be deployed again if there is information that suggests the girl’s whereabouts.

“We would like to send our condolences to the family and friends of the missing daughter,” Stanton said.

At the beach, a 10-minute drive from the girl’s home, police tape and orange cones cordoned off a long stretch of the shoreline. An ATV slowly drove up and down the beach while members of the Rockport Fire Department checked the shoreline and gazed out to sea from a rocky promontory.

Barbara Somers, who lives in Gloucester, rested her elbows on a gate separating cottages and the shoreline as she pressed binoculars to her face. While listening to headphones and counting the pattern of big and small waves, she gazed out from beneath a white baseball cap at the tide.

She had been looking for over an hour, and all she had seen so far was a couple of seals. But she tried not to get discouraged.

“There’s a mother out there who didn’t have her little girl with her last night,” Somers said.

Still, she said, it’s a strange feeling to look so hard for something you don’t want to find. “The worst-case scenario is not really something you want to see,” she said.

Two women who answered the door at the girl’s home and identified themselves as her aunts declined to comment, saying that they know nothing more than what is in news reports.

An early investigation indicated that Caleigh’s sister, mother, and the dog were playing with a ball that went over a wall separating the beach from nearby cottages, State Police spokesman David Procopio said on Thursday. He said the girl’s mother went to retrieve the ball and momentarily lost sight of the children. When she looked back, Caleigh was gone.

Procopio said an inlet from the ocean that would have carried strong currents as the tide receded Thursday was a short distance from where the family was playing. He also said powerful riptides churn the waters off the beach.

The waters off Rockport are about 48 degrees, said Bob Thompson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Fred Hochberger, 51, the fourth of five generations to live in his house on Long Beach, said the water that runs between a pebble beach and a mound of large rocks, near where the girl was last seen, is notorious among residents as a spot where one could easily get caught in rough water. If you try to wade through it, he said, the sand is soft and can cave in, pitching you into a current that draws you out to sea.

“We all stay away from it,” Hochberger said. “If she didn’t know how to swim, she could have been washed out to sea very quickly.”

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report. Martine Powers can be reached at Correspondent Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report.