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Family holds out hope for missing woman

Few clues so far in disappearance of Kristi Cornwell on Aug. 11 in Blairsville

POSTED: October 25, 2009 12:16 a.m.
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Kristi Cornwell of Blairsville has been missing since Aug. 11. A $50,000 reward is offered for information on her whereabouts.

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BLAIRSVILLE — The search for Kristi Cornwell continues.

It has been nearly 11 weeks since Cornwell, 38, was abducted while walking along a rural Union County road near her parents’ home.

And while the massive law enforcement ground search was suspended after a week, and the satellite television news trucks long ago pulled out and left town, it doesn’t mean that efforts to find the single mother and former probation officer have ended.

On the contrary, "it’s been nonstop," her mother said. "The family search has been robust, and it’s going on every day. There’s no let up."

Jo Ann Cornwell’s face is etched with the worry of a mother who has no idea where her daughter is. But she holds out hope she is alive.

"We have great hope that she’s going to come back safe," she said. "I guess it’s a mother’s intuition."

The Cornwell family has done a lot more than wait and worry. They’ve launched a massive media campaign — distributing thousands of flyers, mailing out 33,000 postcards, erecting three billboards and taking out quarter-page ads in newspapers across a three-state area. They’ve given dozens of news interviews and created a Web site, www.kristicornwell.com, with regular updates on their efforts.

"We’re dealing with it by doing what we can do to help find her instead of just sitting at home and wringing our hands," Jo Ann Cornwell said. "We can’t do that — that’s not going to help bring her home."

‘A high priority’

Kristi Cornwell, who has a 15-year-old son from a prior marriage, was staying at her parents house between semesters at Dalton State College, where she was studying to earn a degree in laboratory technology. The Blairsville native and Union County High School graduate earned a criminal justice degree from North Georgia College in 1992 and worked for a time as a probation officer.

Investigators have looked into the possibility that her abductor was someone she knew as a probation officer, but it’s not publicly known if that angle produced any solid leads.

What is known and can be released about Cornwell’s abduction is this: on the night of Aug. 11, 2009, she was walking for exercise along Jones Creek Road, a rural two-lane road off the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway. At around 9 p.m., Cornwell was talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone when he heard the sounds of a struggle and the call ended.

Authorities later found undisclosed personal effects at the site of the abduction. About three miles away on Nottely Dam Road, Cornwell’s cell phone was found.

Authorities have ruled out the boyfriend’s involvement and are operating under the assumption that she was abducted by a stranger in a car.

"Everything points to that," said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Mike Ayers.

Authorities say there could be two "vehicles of interest" in the case — a white sports utility vehicle such as a Chevrolet Suburban, and a gold sedan, possibly an import. Those were cars seen by witnesses in the area that could not be accounted for.

On a flyer touting the $50,000 reward for information, people are asked to pay close attention to a car being cleaned "more than typical, especially one being cleaned with strong chemicals."

The flyer also advises that people should look for recently burned, sunken or wrecked vehicles being disposed of.

Ayers said daily work continues on the case. Family members say they are confident the GBI and Union County Sheriff’s Office is doing everything it can.

As for any promising leads, Ayers said there is "nothing we can comment on right now, but it is a high priority with us and we are constantly seeking closure in it."

‘As long as it takes’

While Jo Ann Cornwell sent letters to more than 400 churches with information on the disappearance, Kristi Cornwell’s brother, Richard, took to the skies in the private plane he owns. Her father continues to lead ground searches with volunteers.

When the official law enforcement ground search was suspended, a five-mile radius from the scene of the abduction had been thoroughly scoured.

"We are basically picking up from where they left off," said Richard Cornwell, who flies over the roads with a spotter, searching for suspicious vehicles or additional discarded items.

Richard Cornwell said he’s trying to organize a larger-scale private search effort with the help of some individuals.

"We’re going to keep working and move outward with our search," he said.

While Richard Cornwell admits the search has taken on the exhausting demands of a full-time job, "We’re going to continue this for as long as it takes and whatever the cost is. We have no intention of slowing down or giving up."

Jo Ann Cornwell said the support her family has received from friends and strangers alike is appreciated.

"It has been unreal," she said. "We have received donations and letters and cards from people all over the United States."

Churches have spread the word to as far as Hawaii and South Africa.

"People are praying for her all over the world," she said.

Faith is what is keeping the family going right now, she said.

"We just have to put our trust in God," Jo Ann Cornwell said. "And know that he’s going to give us strength, and he is giving us strength and hope and a peace that can only come from him. And we just take it one day at a time."



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