ORANJESTAD, Aruba (AP) – Three men who said they dropped off an Alabama teenager at her hotel have emerged as “the most important lead” in the honor student’s disappearance on this Dutch Caribbean island, police said Saturday.

Police, Dutch troops and hundreds of volunteers scouring coastline and beaches for six days have found no trace of Natalee Holloway, 18.

Deputy police chief Gerold Dompig said authorities were investigating the background and story of two Surinamese men and a native of the Netherlands who said they dropped her off at the Holiday Inn before dawn Monday.

Dompig declined to call the men suspects, saying they were “persons of interest,” but said the men were “the most important lead.”

An official close to the investigation said the three men – legal Aruban residents between the ages of 18 and 25 – told police they had taken Holloway to a beach at the northwestern tip of Aruba before dropping her off at the hotel.

But her uncle, Paul Reynolds, said he was told security cameras did not show Holloway returning to the hotel that night. Police declined to comment on that report.

Holloway was on a five-day excursion with 124 seniors and several chaperones from Mountain Brook High School, near Birmingham, Ala. She spent the last night of her vacation eating and dancing at Carlos ‘N Charlie’s bar and restaurant.

She didn’t show up for her return flight, and police found her passport in her hotel room with her packed bags.

“Natalee’s bags were packed and she’s ready to go home,” her mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, told a news conference. “Please help bring her home.”

Holloway, a straight-A student, had earned a full scholarship at the University of Alabama and planned to study premed, Reynolds said. He described his niece as a levelheaded girl who would not have done anything rash, although he also said she had an almost childlike side, too.

“Natalee’s naive. She hasn’t dated a lot. She doesn’t party a lot,” said Reynolds. Holloway attends church regularly and wouldn’t ever run away, he said.

In the Mountain Brook yearbook, Holloway’s senior quote came from the old Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Freebird.” It says: “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on now, there’s too many places I haven’t seen.”

In Mountain Brook, Ala., dozens of Holloway’s friends and classmates attended an afternoon prayer vigil Saturday. “The entire community is very concerned and very much in prayer,” said the city manager, Sam Gaston.

Ten more FBI agents joined the search Saturday for the girl, Attorney General Caren Janssen said. “We need more technical assistance,” she said, declining to elaborate.


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