For almost two weeks, more than 1,000 people have signed up to pass out fliers or to search neighborhoods for Laci Peterson, the pregnant woman who disappeared Christmas Eve.
Most of the volunteers have never met each other, nor have they met Peterson. Yet they are so dedicated that their work has reached from Modesto west to the Bay Area, east to Yosemite National Park, north to Sacramento and as far south as Mexico.
Recently, Chris Hazel and her 7-year-old daughter Jill, both of Modesto, spent part of their New Year's Eve with family friend Michele Pulliam of Oakdale. They spent several hours in the rain searching fields, bushes and alleys along River Road in Ceres.
"I brought Jill so she will have something to reflect on," Hazel said. "But my reservation is if there isn't a perfect ending, I'll have to let Jill know she did all that she could."
Hazel works for Modesto City Schools as an on-call campus supervisor and also works part time as a certified nursing assistant. She never met Peterson but once encountered her sister, Amy Rocha.
"She's a really kind girl," Hazel said of Amy Rocha. "One girl at a beauty salon messed up my hair, and Amy fixed it for me."
For that, she felt compelled to return the favor to Amy Rocha, she said.
"Also, Peterson is someone else's daughter and sister, and that moved me," Hazel said.
Pulliam said she, too, was moved by the story of Peterson's disappearance. Peterson's husband, Scott, told police he last saw his wife at 9:30 a.m. as he left to go fishing in Berkeley and she got ready to walk the dog. The dog was found an hour later wandering the neighborhood with its leash attached. Laci has not been found.
"I was drawn to this case," Pulliam said. "I'm going back to school to study criminal justice, so this fascinates me."
Together, the three women walked along River Road in the rain and picked up paper, looked under bushes and crisscrossed a field that had dozens of mounds of dirt.
"We were asked to look for anything suspicious," Hazel said. "We were asked to look for clues to her disappearance."
A week earlier, the three passed out 500 fliers offering a reward for the return of Peterson, and they convinced several businesses to donate money so more fliers could be made, Pulliam said.
Since Peterson disappeared, more than 900 people have signed up at the volunteer center at the Red Lion Hotel to help pass out fliers or search for her, said Brad Saltzman, general manager of the hotel. The hotel has donated the use of the rooms to the Peterson family for the search, he said.
Hundreds more volunteers have shown up at the police command center for the search, said Modesto police Sgt. Ron Cloward. The command center was at East La Loma Park until Sunday, but was moved to the Modesto Police Department today.
"The volunteers have been great," he said. "It helped relieve my officers of work, allowing them to be assigned to other aspects of the case."
Though police have declared they suspect foul play in the case, volunteers still continue to show up. On Sunday, about 25 new people went to the volunteer center at the hotel. About 30 people asked for places to search at the police command center.
"These people just have the need to find Laci," said Stacey Boyers, a volunteer at the Red Lion center. "It touched everyone in their own way."
Boyers said she, too, has a reason for spending the past two weeks in the search for Peterson.
"I'm doing this because she was my friend," Boyers said. "We've known each other since the third grade."
The volunteer command center at the Red Lion, 1612 Sisk Road, is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. It can be reached directly by calling 529-9365 or through the Internet at www.lacipeterson.com.
Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.