LYNCHBURG — Dozens of searchers — including dive teams and canine units — scoured Nelson County Saturday in an all-day effort to locate missing teen Alexis Murphy.
The day concluded with the discovery of a red sweater caught beneath a rock in the Rockfish River — a turn of events that prompted a quick call to investigators, who arrived at the scene within a half hour and quickly tucked the garment into a plastic evidence bag.
Murphy was last seen Aug. 3 at the Liberty gas station in Lovingston, where surveillance footage shows her wearing a red sweater and leopard print pants.
Shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday, members of the Lake Monticello Water Rescue Team pulled their kayaks and raft ashore beneath the bridge at Drumheller Lane in Shipman. They had just finished a 10-mile trek down the river.
Several members of the crew trudged along the riverbed, when one asked for a pair of goggles and then took a closer look in the water. He surfaced to shout, "It's a red sweater. Wasn't she last seen wearing a red sweater?"
Investigator Billy Mays, of the Nelson County Sheriff's Office, arrived at the scene shortly afterward. After collecting the sweater, Mays took pictures from the bridge overlooking where the crew member found the sweater. When asked about the discovery, he declined to comment.
The man who found the sweater also declined to identify himself.
The Lake Monticello team represented just a fraction of the roughly 50 people out Saturday searching along U.S. 29, the Rockfish River and other back roads, Mays said earlier in the day.
"Some of these places, witnesses said they may have seen [Randy Allen Taylor]," he said.
Taylor, 48, was accused on Aug. 11 of abducting Murphy.
"What we're trying to do is hit some secondary roads that would have been travel corridors for Mr. Taylor," Mays said. "Some of it's following up on tips, but we're looking at topographic maps."
Saturday afternoon, crews in search and rescue uniforms gathered around a large map of Nelson County inside the sheriff's office.
Others, such as the Lake Monticello team, searched throughout the county.
Mays said 12 canine units also helped look through areas along back roads with heavy vegetation and thick tree canopies.
"If anyone is trying to fly under the radar, they're going to travel secondary or back roads," he said.
Mays said they have not been able to confirm whether Taylor has traveled through where crews searched.
"All indications show that he's someone who did not have a lot of contact with people, so basically we're thinking outside of the box," Mays said.
Mays said crews began their effort about 9 a.m. Saturday. The search concluded about 5 p.m.
"Most of the areas we wanted to search today have been searched. Once we get those done, we can mark them off of our map and move forward."
Anyone with information on Alexis' whereabouts is asked to contact investigators at (434) 263-7050.