TWO GIRLS MISSING ON SAIPAN, SEARCH CONTINUES

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Girls 9, 10 last seen at bus stop on Wednesday

By Ferdie de la Torre SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 28, 2011) – Seventy local and federal law enforcers supported by over 90 civilian volunteers combed the island of Saipan yesterday to search for two girls who went missing Wednesday but no trace of the sisters was found as of press time.

The search for Faloma Luhk, 10, and Meleina Luhk, 9, is expected to continue today, Saturday. The Department of Public Safety called on volunteers to report to the Kagman Community Center at 7am today, May 28, to expand and continue the search.

Although the search was islandwide, five teams focused their search in the jungles and houses in Kagman and As Teo. Several police officers and detectives were spotted yesterday afternoon walking in the vicinity of the school bus stop where the girls were reportedly last seen.

Police spokesman Jason Tarkong told Saipan Tribune that they have received some leads and are pursuing many angles. He refused to elaborate so as not to jeopardize ongoing investigations and operations.

The police's Tactical Response Enforcement Team and the Fire Division's Search and Rescue Unit are spearheading the search and are joined by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Marshal Service.

Police Capt. Pete Leon Guerrero is the overall commander of the search operation, while Jess Mesa of the DPS Fire Division is the search team coordinator. DPS Criminal Investigation Bureau's operating supervisor Detective Jeff Olopai is the lead investigator in the case.

Although family members believe the girls were abducted, Tarkong said that DPS still classifies the case as a missing persons report.

Tarkong said they have been flooded with community volunteers who have either joined in the search or offered food and drinks to law enforcers.

At 3pm yesterday, there was a scheduled meeting with volunteers and law enforcers at the Incident Command Post at the Kagman Community Center.

Saipan Tribune was told that the girls' mother, Jermaine Quitugua, arrived from Guam Thursday night after learning about the incident and proceeded yesterday afternoon to the Incident Command Post where the search teams and volunteers had a briefing.

Acting DPS commissioner Ramon Mafnas thanked the private sector and the volunteers who assisted DPS in the search. "We're hoping that this will come up positive soon," he said.

The girls' aunt, Anicia Tomokane, said they heard that employees of some government agencies were released from work early yesterday to help in the search.

"It's so heartwarming that people not related to the families are helping. We're so overwhelmed by the numerous calls offering help and their prayers. We're getting calls from as far as the states," she said.

Tomokane and her husband have been staying at the house where the girls live in As Teo since Thursday, answering calls and entertaining guests.

She said everybody in the family were at the Chalan Kanoa Church for a Mass and the subsequent burial of their aunt yesterday.

"It is heartbreaking for us because we are still preparing to bury my aunt and this thing is happening," she said.

Tomokane said her missing nieces have been helpful in taking care of their aunt when she was still alive.

Police said the girls have been living with their grandparents-Mr. and Mrs. Elbert and Jane Quitugua, of Santa Lourdes, As Teo-for almost three years now.

The father of the girls, Ruhtick Luhk, is a former police officer on Saipan who is now based in Pohnpei.

Police said the grandparents learned that the girls were missing when they failed to return home after school around 3:30pm Wednesday.

The girls were last seen Wednesday at 6am as they were leaving their house in As Teo on their way to a bus stop. Witnesses spotted the sisters sitting across from the bus stop on a drainage cement slab around 6:10am. Police learned that the girls missed their 6:30am bus.

The grandparents filed a missing persons report with DPS at 5:30pm on Wednesday.

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