5-year-old wants missing father back

Public's help needed to locate man

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

Thomas Gardner, 42, has no family or friends to speak of in town. He has a mental illness and keeps to himself. Few people even would have noticed he was missing. But Gardner's 5-year-old daughter Alexa, who woke up alone in the dark last week, knew her daddy was gone.

"She said she just spent a lot of her time in the one to three days she was alone in the apartment sitting at the window watching for her dad to come home and just waiting," said police Officer Kris Sell, who interviewed Alexa after she was found. "You know, she was upset. She said her dad had never left her alone before and she didn't know why he would. But she's a remarkable, bright girl who's doing well under the circumstances."

Gardner went missing March 10. He may have been seen walking toward the Douglas Bridge and later walking toward the gravel pits behind his apartment building at 1789 Douglas Highway, but no one is really sure, police said.

"It's like he just disappeared off the face of the earth," said Sgt. John Boltjes. "We're still looking for him though. We've called out SEADOGS again to do another ground search around his house near the gravel pits, but at this point - personally, I think if he was headed towards the woods, his chances are not good."

Police have few leads, exhausted all the usual checks, have no sign or evidence of foul play and not a trace of where Gardner could be, but they are still looking, said Boltjes. Officer Scott Erickson explained the importance of police continuing the search for Gardner.

"You know he doesn't have a mom or dad or brother or aunts and uncles out there looking for him, just us, SEADOGS, some agency officials and his little girl," said Erickson.

SEADOGS is the Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search.

The man's disappearance was discovered when a bus driver for the Tlingit-Haida Head Start program called the Gardner house to ask why Alexa had not been to preschool for a few days, police said. The driver found the girl alone and contacted authorities. Alexa was taken into the custody of the Division of Family and Youth Services and police began looking for her father.

Christa Womack, supervisor for Head Start, said Gardner often would volunteer in his daughter's classroom.

"He was always willing to help out," said Womack. "He kept kind off to himself and was quiet, but very open to helping. Whenever he would come into class, like during story time, Alexa would jump into his lap and they'd sit there together. He just seemed to be a really good father.

"She is doing well, but she talks about him and of course she misses him. I hope they find him."

Boltjes said the man has paranoid tendencies that may have led him to wander away from home and that he may have gone off his medication. Boltjes declined to detail the man's illness.

Gardner's ex-wife, Alexa's mother, was located in Anchorage, but police are unsure whether there is any effort to reunite mother and daughter. Alexa remains in foster care in Juneau. Calls made to DFYS were not returned.

Gardner is described as about 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighing 165 to 180 pounds, with hazel eyes and brown hair. He was last seen wearing a heavy black coat or jacket with a red liner and blue jeans.

Anyone with information should phone police at 586-0600.

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