Small town copes with death of missing girl

BY JAY HUGHES

The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – For five days, residents of tiny Gilmore and the surrounding Mississippi Delta countryside kept faith, searching a wide swath of sun-baked soybean, cotton and rice fields for missing 7-year-old Patricia Ann Miles.

They tied yellow ribbons around trees, street signs and utility poles as symbols of their commitment to the presumed kidnapping victim.

Many retained some hope of finding the child alive, even though her shoes and pink bicycle had been recovered days earlier. Their hopes were dashed Thursday when the girl's body was found in a field not far from her where the shoes and bike were discovered.

“Naturally, you have to hope for the best,” family friend Ken Sanford said Friday. “It was just a false hope, but it was something to hold onto for the moment until we knew something definitely.”

Baby-sitter arrested

The child's occasional baby-sitter, Jo Ann Buchanan, was arrested on an abduction charge, but prosecutor James C. Hale Sr. said no additonal counts had been filed. The cause of death was not known.

Gilmore, population 292, is barely a roadstop off U.S. 63 about 25 miles northwest of Memphis, a region notable for the richness of its soil and poverty of its residents.

“It's a little town beside the railroad tracks. You know everybody,” said the Rev. Stephen Chitman, Patricia Ann's family pastor at Second St. John Baptist Church in nearby West Memphis. “It hit hard, because I don't think anybody thought their neighbor was capable of doing whatever was done to her. It's hard to imagine somebody who lived close to you would do that.”

The girl was kidnapped Sunday morning after riding her bicycle to a store for snacks. Witnesses told investigators they saw Patricia Ann get into a van with Buchanan. A witness told police Buchanan later removed a child's bike from the van.

“They're devastated right now, Sanford said. “No words can explain what's going on for them right now.”