A helicopter from the U.S. Navy and a C-130 plane from the U.S. Air Force joined the search yesterday for sisters Faloma and Maleina Luhk, more than a hundred hours after the two went missing and expanding the search to include the entire island of Saipan.
The Department of Public Safety put up checkpoints in As Teo, Kagman, and San Vicente yesterday afternoon to hand out fliers about the missing girls to motorists.
Police spokesman Jason Tarkong said the Navy helicopter and Air Force plane joined the islandwide search starting at 12:30pm yesterday, about 102 hours since the last time somebody saw the two sisters.
Jermain Quitugua, 33, mother of the Luhk sisters, said she still hopes to see her daughters alive. “I'm still trying to keep strong,” she said.
Saipan Tribune met Quitugua as she emerged from the Incident Command Post at the Kagman Community Center where law enforcers held a briefing with volunteers yesterday morning.
“I want to express gratitude to everybody for helping in the search for my daughters,” said Quitugua, who arrived from Guam Thursday night.
Quitugua refused to talk about former Saipan police officer Ruhtick Luhk, the father of 10-year-old Faloma and 9-year-old Maleina, who reportedly now lives in Pohnpei, beside saying she will talk to the media further in due time.
The girls have been living with their grandparents-Elbert and Jane Quitugua, of Santa Lourdes, As Teo-for almost three years now.
At 10am yesterday, Tarkong led a team of police officers search the jungles of As Teo. Over 20 civilian volunteers carrying fliers about the missing girls were also seen walking around As Teo.
Tarkong said they all went back to Kagman Community Center around noon. He said an islandwide search would follow.
On Saturday, 60 law enforcers supported by 140 volunteers conducted an islandwide search, but no trace of the girls was found. The searchers checked beaches and conducted house to house visits where they distributed fliers.
“We covered the entire island yesterday [Saturday],” said acting police commissioner Ramon Mafnas.
Mafnas said the target of yesterday's search were the jungles and caves of As Teo. He said DPS is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Marshal Service.
“DPS and the government are asking the community to assist in the search. The most important is to give us information,” he said.
When asked if it was possible the girls may have already been spirited out of the CNMI, Mafnas said the two have no passports.
Mafnas said he could not release information about the investigation so not to jeopardize the ongoing probe and search operations.
Mafnas said DPS is extending its gratitude to the private sector and the many volunteers who donated food and drinks to law enforcers.
Suni Aveina, 27, brought two of her three children-ages 5 and 8-to Kagman Community Center yesterday to assist in the search. Aveina said she heard about DPS' call for volunteers on Saturday at the Taste of the Marianas, prompting her to volunteer.
Aveina and her two children joined other volunteers in combing the roads of As Teo and in handing out fliers to motorists and residents. They were asked to stay away from the jungles for their safety.
Aveina said she brought along her children because, as a mother, she could feel the pain of the family.
“I want the family to get the girls back. They're sweet girls,” she said. “I'm teaching my children the values on the need to help. The community support is awesome.”
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 reportedly last seen Wednesday at 6am as they were leaving their house in As Teo on their way to a bus stop. Police said witnesses spotted the sisters sitting across from the stop on a drainage cement slab around 6:10am. Police learned that the two missed their 6:30am bus.