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Search for Arizona girl, 6, turns back to her Tucson home

By Marisa Gerber

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - The search for a missing 6-year-old Arizona girl who authorities said may have been snatched from her bedroom in Tucson entered its third day on Monday as search dogs shifted investigators' attention back to the child's home.

The parents of first-grader Isabel Mercedes Celis told detectives she was last seen on Friday night when they tucked her into bed, and was found to have vanished when a family member entered her room the next morning to awaken her, police said.

After an intense but fruitless door-to-door search of a 6-mile-wide swath of Tucson surrounding the girl's house over the past two days, investigators renewed their focus on the interior of the home, this time with the family removed from the residence, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said.

Two specially trained dogs brought in by the FBI arrived on the scene late on Sunday, Villasenor told a news conference, and "the dogs did alert on a few things ... but what exactly that is what we're trying to determine."

"We have information obtained from the dogs that necessitate our follow-up investigation," the chief said. "In order to do that, we secured the residence. We've asked the family to leave the residence so we don't have to talk about any other contamination of the scene."

Police extended their search to adjacent neighborhoods and were scouring a nearby landfill for clues on Monday, a move that Lieutenant Fabian Pacheco, a police spokesman, described as routine "in these types of investigations."

Police have said they were treating Isabel's disappearance as a "possible abduction" and that they were not ruling anything out and have not identified any suspects in the case.

In a statement read out by Tucson police at a news conference late on Monday, the missing girl's parents thanked well-wishers for their support and said they were cooperating fully with police.

"We appreciate everyone's interest in finding our daughter, Isabel and thank all the volunteers who have come out to search for her," it said. "We are cooperating fully with authorities and are focused only on her safe return."

FAMILY PRAYED WITH PRIEST

Before she went missing, Isabel lived at the house with her mother, father and two older brothers, police said. They will be permitted to return to their home "once we are satisfied that we have completed all the investigation that needs to be done in the house," Villasenor told reporters.

The family's minister, Miguel Mariano, parish priest of Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church about a block away from Isabel's home, said he met with her parents and brothers on Sunday morning and prayed with them.

He described the family as looking distraught and distressed. "I asked, 'Do you need anything? Food? Anything from the community?' They said, 'No father, at this time we need your prayer,'" the priest recalled.

The police chief also confirmed that a window to the ground-floor bedroom was found open and that a screen from that window had been removed, but he stopped short of saying an intruder was believed to have entered the single-story house that way.

"That would be a potential point of entry that we've been interested in from the beginning," he said.

Police have said the hazel-eyed child had no history of wandering off or running away from home.

After cordoning off the immediate vicinity of the house, search teams made several passes through an area stretching 3 miles in all directions from the family's home, police said.

Pacheco said investigators had questioned all 17 registered sex offenders in that area, a middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of single-family dwellings, but those interviews turned up no clues.

At a news conference late on Monday, police said they had searched an apartment complex about a mile-and-a-half from the missing girl's home after receiving a tip that someone had possibly seen her. It turned up no fresh leads.

Investigators and volunteers were also canvassing residents and local merchants, handing out thousands of fliers with Isabel's photo and looking for any video from surveillance cameras that might have captured something. Villasenor said police have received more than 100 leads in the case.

Asked whether police believed Isabel was still alive, Pacheco said, "At this point we're hopeful." But Villasenor acknowledged later that the odds of finding the child safe were dwindling with the passage of time.

"Every hour is valuable, and as more pass that causes more concern and more distress," he said.

(Additional reporting by David Schwartz; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Eric Walsh)

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