Hundreds of volunteers and police officers poked around prickly pear and mesquite trees Saturday in search of three things: a collared sweater with a zipper, a pair of American Eagle blue jeans, and Jackie Hartman.
But the undulating wilderness northeast of Fountain Hills easily swallowed them all. Motorists passing along the 20-mile stretch of state Route 87 north of Saguaro Lake likely saw trucks and all-terrain vehicle trailers, sheriff’s and police cars and even horse trailers.
Hidden among the saguaro and paloverde, volunteers skirted the highway and scanned the sides of dirt roads and trails on foot, dirt bikes, ATVs and horseback.
In addition to the clothing, they sought signs of damaged vegetation and truck tracks.
Hartman, a 19-year-old nursing student at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, has now been missing for one week.
Gilbert police believe she was kidnapped and raped by 25-year-old Ian Burns, who was arrested Monday after police found Hartman’s bulletridden, blood-stained shirt and other items in a Chandler trash bin near Burns’ home.
Hartman met Burns at a gas station days before her disappearance, and she’d been out with the ex-convict the night she disappeared.
Police believe Hartman’s body may have been dumped in the wilderness between Fountain Hills and Payson, where Burns used his cell phone within a few hours of Hartman’s disappearance.
Because of the uncertainty about whether Hartman is alive, police sent two types of K-9 units Saturday: tracking dogs to sniff for her scent, and cadaver dogs to scout for decomposition.
Some 50 officers from Gilbert and Chandler police departments, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Public Safety and the Arizona Game and Fish Department joined 100 trained volunteers from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s posse to begin a highly coordinated search for Hartman at 6:30 a.m.
Officers quartered off for themselves an area south of Sunflower after receiving a tip from someone who’d seen a red truck — like the one owned by Burns — in the area on the morning of the disappearance.
Large antennas loomed at the roadside command post, making communication to the search parties possible via radio. Three helicopters complemented the ground units.
Officers asked other volunteers, including family and friends of the victim, to steer clear of their scene and search elsewhere.
The job of coordinating these untrained volunteers fell to Dave Hartman, Jackie’s father.
He spent his day in cell phone range, so volunteers and media had a point of contact. Meanwhile, he trolled the area for roads and trails yet untouched by search parties. He and friends have been searching the wilderness since Tuesday, according to Rick Garoutte, one of Dave Hartman’s co-workers.
“We’ll be supporting Dave as long as he needs us,” Garoutte said. He and others manned a command post of their own.
A laminated topographical map lay across a folding table. Notes marked familiar points and peaks, and orange highlighter streaked the roads already searched. The markings were approximate.
The table also offered bottles of sports drink, water and snacks.
An anonymous donor later dropped off about 100 brown bag lunches for volunteers. The man had talked local grocers into donating items such as lunchmeat and bread, and he’d stayed up until 1 a.m. bagging the meals.
Gilbert police Sgt. Jesse Sanger woke up at 3 a.m. to coordinate distribution of fliers.
Police volunteers handed out the fliers to motorists and recreationists at seven different turn-offs along the highway from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. — about the time police believe Burns passed through.
The fliers identified Hartman, Burns and the suspect’s truck.
Meanwhile, Gilbert residents Matt Fossett and Chad Diegle used their ATVs to cover ground quickly. Their search strategy was simple: “Just get out there and ride the trails,” Fossett said.
He and Diegle hit the trails about 6:45 a.m. “We’ll be here as long as it takes, or until sundown,” said Barbara Markley, a former corrections officer from Florence. She and Amy Wells, of Mesa, headed out on foot, planning to “think like criminals.”
Around 7 p.m., well after dark, Dave Hartman finished up his day’s search. He had nothing to report but said police had found a shirt near Usery Pass. Hartman said the family plans to meet volunteers at 8 a.m. today at the intersection of Chandler Heights and Gilbert roads, and their search will continue.