HONOLULU (AP) — It's been a year since two sisters were last seen waiting for a school bus in their Saipan village, prompting a massive search involving local authorities form the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the FBI and volunteers.
The disappearance of the two children from the small, close-knit island immediately sparked a search that entailed canvassing jungles, searching abandoned buildings and digging through 30,000 cubic feet of the island's trash. Saipan has a population of about 60,000. While there is a crystal meth problem, the violent crime rate is very low.
There are still no hard leads in the disappearance of 10-year-old Faloma Luhk and her 9-year-old sister, Maleina Luhk.
They were reported missing by their grandparents when they didn't come home on May 25, 2011. FBI agents from Honolulu, dispatched to help local agents and police, spent a month on the island before leads dried up. A reward for information grew to $50,000.
"Despite the inherent frustrations of this case, the FBI and police refuse to give up," FBI Special Agent Tom Simon, of Honolulu, said Friday. He was one of the agents who helped in the weeklong dig of the landfill.
"It has been a very, very troubling year for us," said the girls' grandfather, Elbert Quitugua. "We're praying that something will shed light as to what happened to them so we can all rest and move forward. We are in deep pain. Our lives have totally changed."
He said the family attended Mass together to mark the sad anniversary.
A false alarm in the case came in August, when human bones were found near their home. It turned out the bones belonged to an elderly male relative.
Authorities believe the girls were abducted.
"We've had theories on this case since day one, but without hard evidence, charges can't be filed," Simon said.
The case also involved getting diplomatic permission from the Federated States of Micronesia to interview the girls' father, who lives in Pohnpei. The FBI determined he was not involved in the disappearance and that the girls are not on Pohnpei.
Authorities also interviewed about 10 Saipan men with birthmarks on their faces. A neighbor reported seeing a man with a prominent facial birthmark sitting in a car near the bus stop weeks before the girls disappeared. FBI officials did not consider him a suspect but wanted to interview him as a potential witness. None of the men interviewed turned out to be the same man the neighbor recalled seeing.
A search and rescue dog from Hawaii also spent time on the island without finding any trace of the girls.