by Bruce A. Smith
The search for Nicole White has revealed a strange mix of decision-making and behaviors among officials, and her family and friends on how best to find the Orting mother of two, missing since Saturday June 6.
After a very public search of the Webster Hill area on Monday when Nicole’s car was found abandoned in Graham, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the county’s Search and Rescue teams have opted for a more secretive approach.
It is now known that after its search in Graham the official effort moved mid-week to the lands of Joint Base Lewis McChord.
“The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department was in charge, and they told us that they were planning to investigate several of our training areas out that way (Graham-Spanaway),” Public Affairs Officer John Norgren told the Mountain News on Friday.
However, the official search has moved again apparently, and Sheri Badger, Public Information Officer of the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management told the Mountain News that her agency’s Mobile Operations Command Center had been deployed to the joint search operations headed by the PCSD, and she expected the search to continue into the weekend.
“They are out there searching,” Badger said, but she declined to give any exact locations.
In addition, Detective Ed Troyer, spokesperson for the PCSD, emailed the Mountain News on Friday evening and said the primary search area for Nicole was now in eastern Pierce County, but he would not give any specifics.
This counters information released by several news organizations, such as the Seattle PI-online and the Chehalis Chronicle that the search for Nicole White had moved into “three cities of Washington State.”
But all of this is news to the family and friends of Nicole who have gathered at the Rainier View Christian Church on 224th St in Graham to organize their own search for their loved one.
“We haven’t heard anything,” said “Margie,” the woman who has taken on the role of managing the encampment.
“But we’re looking everywhere, and we’re not going to stop until we find her,” Margie added.
However, her group’s efforts are quite separate from the official search.
“The police are pretty ‘hush,’” Margie said. “They pretty much won’t tell us anything.”
Expanding, Margie and others from the “Help Find Nicole” group said they have been told not to join the official search and instructed not to comb through private and residential properties.
“So, we’re looking wherever people will let us. We’re mostly searching in the outskirts of where the car was found,” Margie added.
In fact, when a caravan of Help Find Nicole searchers started looking along the boundaries areas of JBLM lands in Spanaway off 8th Ave, military police descended upon them quickly and asked them to leave.
“They got on us before we even got out of our cars!” said one volunteer. “It was like a SWAT team or something.”
As a result, Margie said the group’s primary role was to “cushion” the family and provide emotional support.
They are also stockpiling water, apples, flashlights and reflective vest for the searchers who go out – giving them a rest place and bathrooms after their trek, along with providing the emotional support of those who appreciate their efforts.
“There’s lot of dead ends, and it’s hot, and people are beat up, but we need to do this,” said “Will” a young man who identified himself as a friend of Nicole’s “since high school.” Will appeared weary as he walked over the tables piled high with water and cookies after looking for his friend in the Spanaway area.
In fact, the entire group appears discouraged, although they are focused and resolute on their mission to find Nicole. When asked about what they think happened to Nicole, individuals shut the conversation down immediately.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” said Will.
Nevertheless, the effort to find Nicole seems to be growing. A former Graham resident, now living in Colorado, arranged with a local sanitary company to provide a Porta-Potty for the encampment.
In addition, Boeing has supplied numerous vests and flashlights, and Verizon has purchased cases of bottled water and apples.
“We’ll accept anything, but we need coolers, ice, and Gatorade,” said Margie. “We’re starting from nothing.”
However, one thing they aren’t asking for is financial support.
“We’re not asking for money,” Margie stressed, as a Bethel bus driver drove past, honked his horn and waved. Margie waved back and smiled, saying, “See?”
However, members of Nicole’s immediate family seem to be struggling. Two individuals whose names and phone numbers were posted on the initial set of flyers distributed to the community now refuse contact. In fact, one family member became openly hostile to a reporter asking for an update.
Further, the family does not seem to have an appointed representative who can provide either updates to the media or advocate for the volunteers.
Nicole’s father, Eddie Nieto, arrived Tuesday from his home in San Diego, and has assumed some roles of leadership, but even though cordial and open to this reporter in our initial interview he has been unresponsive subsequently.
Often the Help Find Nicole group seems to be twisting in the wind, with no liaison to the official search nor any support from the Red Cross or other community service groups.
Nevertheless, Crime Stoppers has issued a $1,000 reward for information leading to Nicole’s recovery.
As to Nicole’s fate, the PCSD’s Detective Ed Troyer is sanguine, saying in a Fox-13 interview that although he is hoping for a positive outcome he is expecting a “sinister” conclusion.
The encampment of Help Find Nicole, at the Rainier View Christian Church in Graham.
Nicole’s friend Will, returning from a search.
Editor’s Note: Over 5,000 readers have viewed the posts on the Nicole White search since our first article was posted 6. 9. 15. Thank you, and I hope the information is useful.