MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (AP) – The more the snow melts, the more the mystery deepens: What happened to Nicholas Garza?

The disappearance of the 19-year-old Middlebury College freshman – missing since he walked out of Stewart Hall dormitory Feb. 5 – continues to puzzle searchers, with no trace of him on campus, no suggestion he left and no indication of foul play.

On Thursday, for the first time in more than a month, a large-scale search was conducted using dozens of Vermont State Police members and search experts, but it turned up nothing.

The hope had been that the gradual disappearance of the snow pack could lead to a find and end the uncertainty. Searchers quit at 6 p.m., and they don’t plan an immediate return.

“They plan an intensive search in two weeks,” said Tom Scanlon, a police spokesman.

He said “monstrous piles” of ice in would-be search locations were among the difficulties in the search.

Members of the Vermont State Police’s search-and-rescue team, with help from the Colchester Technical Rescue Squad and New England K-9 Search and Rescue, scoured the campus for Garza’s body or clues to his disappearance.

“Hopefully, today will bring an end to a very sad set of circumstances and bring some relief and closure, particularly to the family,” said Tom Scanlon, a Middlebury Police spokesman.

“There’s still areas where Mr. Garza could be,” he said.

On the night he disappeared, Garza was last seen leaving Stewart Hall at about 11:05 p.m., headed for his dormitory, about 500 yards away.

When friends couldn’t find him the next day, they notified campus security, but his mother didn’t file a missing persons report until five days later because friends thought Garza might have left campus to go to a cabin that was out of cell phone range.

Searches have yielded no clues as to what happened to him. The last large-scale search ended Feb. 23, though there have been spot searches since then. All 109 buildings on campus have been searched twice, as have roofs.

On Thursday, searchers used long Fiberglas poles to poke into snow, search dogs and global positioning systems to keep track of the areas covered. They looked near Otter Creek and in the north end of campus, where students were on spring break.

The poles were used to poke holes in the snow, in the hope that the holes would lead to a scent that the dogs could respond to, said Scanlon, who called it a recovery operation, not a rescue.

Snow depth has been a major concern throughout the investigation, as it has been across New England, which has endured one of the snowiest winters on record.

The National Weather Service doesn’t keep data on snowfall in Middlebury, but in nearby Lincoln, more than three feet fell in February, including 2.2 inches the day Garza disappeared, three inches the next day and 11.2 inches on Feb. 7.

But warming days and the gradual snow melt have eliminated most of it on the 350-acre campus, where large swatches of grass have reappeared in recent weeks. In wooded areas and places that get limited sunlight, it remains up to 18 inches deep, but Scanlon said areas that couldn’t be searched previously were more accessible Thursday.

“It would be absolutely awful to find him in the snow,” said Matthew Labunka, 20, a sophomore, as he walked to a dining hall Thursday.

Still, that possibility remains.

“It’s not a big campus,” said senior B.K. Park, 21, of Seoul, South Korea. “So where could he have gone?”

Garza’s mother, Natalie Garza, of Albuquerque, N.M., who has maintained a constant vigil here, was not talking to reporters Thursday, hoping to keep the focus on the search, according to Middlebury College spokesman Stephen Diehl.

Foul play is not suspected, police said. A $20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to Garza’s return.

“There’s always been the hope for Nick’s safe return,” said college spokesman Sarah Ray. “It’s just a sad situation and people continue to deal with it as best they can.”

—-

On the Web:

Nicholas Garza: www.nicholasgarza.org

AP-ES-03-27-08 1916EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.