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Still missing, still searching: National search team takes on Kara Tingle Rigdon case

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Texas group led the search for Caylee Anthony

By Stevie Lowery

Tim Miller knows what it's like to lose a child.

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His 16-year-old daughter, Laura, was abducted in his home state of Texas in 1984.

The police determined that she was a runaway, and did not pursue her case. Miller begged the authorities for help but to no avail.

Laura's name was never mentioned in the newspaper or on the television.

Miller was left to search for his daughter on his own.

And for more than a year, every time his telephone would ring or someone would knock on his door, his heart would palpitate, as if it was going to beat out of his chest.

Unfortunately, 17 months after his daughter disappeared, her remains were found, along with the remains of three other girls, in an abandoned oil field two and a half miles from his house. Their killer was never found.

But, according to Miller, there's one thing worse than finding out your child has been murdered. It's what Sheila and Dale Tingle, the parents of Kara Tingle Rigdon, have been going through for the past year. Not knowing what's happened to your child or where she is, that's complete hell, according to Miller.

"When Laura's body was found I literally remember taking a sigh of relief," he said. "At least I knew. It's not what I wanted to know, but at least I knew."

Sheila and Dale Tingle still don't have any clear answers regarding their daughter's disappearance, but Miller is hoping to help give them the closure that they need.

Miller is the founder of the Texas EquuSearch Mounted Search and Recovery organization, which led the 2008 search for Caylee Anthony in Florida, and he's taken on Kara's case. His search team's existence and purpose is dedicated to the memory of his daughter, and he has promised to do everything in his power to help find Kara.

"I made a promise to God and to Laura to never leave a family alone," Miller said. "This is a family that needs our help."

Kara Tingle Rigdon, 28, has been missing since July 17, 2010, when she was last seen on Beechfork Loop Road in Gravel Switch. The last known contact with her was at 2 a.m., on July 18, when she spoke with a family member. She said, "I'm okay. I will be home shortly." She has not returned. She was driving a family member's car that was found two days later on the Bluegrass Parkway. She was scheduled to be at work at 8 a.m. in Elizabethtown but never showed up.

Last week, Miller traveled to Marion County to begin planning for the search for Kara. During Texas EquuSearch's 10 and a half-year history, Miller and his team have been involved in more than 1,200 searches in approximately 42 states in the United States, Aruba, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The search group has more than 1,400 members nationwide.

Miller said he had planned to begin the search for Kara months ago, but ended up in the hospital and had to have surgery. He also got tied up with the Casey Anthony case. In fact, last month, Miller and his search group filed a civil suit against Anthony to recoup expenses in the 2008 search for her daughter Caylee. Anthony, who was found not guilty in connection with her daughter's death, was found guilty on three counts of lying to law enforcement. The lawsuit alleges that Anthony made numerous misrepresentations to Miller and his search group, and that the group (which relies on donations) spent more than $112,000 and used 4,200 volunteers to search for Caylee. The lawsuit also claims that the time and effort dedicated to the Anthony search diverted resources from the group's ability to provide its search and rescue operations to 15 other families.

Last week, Miller, whose day job is actually in construction, met with Kentucky State Police to begin determining what resources he and his search group will need when they return to Marion County.

"We're working hand-in-hand with Kentucky State Police," Miller said. "I believe if you get a bunch of people working together for the right reasons there's a chance we'll get the right results. I know if nothing is done, there is no chance she'll be found. If every resource in the world is brought in, there's probably a small chance. But, ya know what, we're willing to take the small chance."

Miller said it will take two to three weeks to get a plan together and then he plans to return to Marion County with his team of volunteers.

"It's not the idea of 'if' the search is going to happen, it's 'when' it's going to happen," he said. "It's a promise to the family. It's a promise to this community. We're going to do everything we can do to bring some closure to this."

And bringing closure to families is Miller's goal.

As of four weeks ago, Texas EquuSearch recovered its 126th victim. Miller is convinced, without his search team's involvement in those cases, at least 40 of those missing persons would have never been found.

"We've brought very much needed closure to many families by finding their deceased family members," Miller said. "At least they can have that part of closure and try to put their life back together."

And, while the search team has also had successful searches where the missing person was found alive, Miller doesn't have high hopes for that in Kara's case.

"The best thing that we can hope for in Kara's case is one day soon to be able to go to a funeral," he said. "We have promised this family that we will not leave them alone. I think the community deserves this. I think anybody that is responsible for this needs to go ahead and face the consequences for it. More than anything, we're not going to forget about Kara."

Miller cautions anyone who assumes that Kara will never be found to "never say never." With the number of resources and technology that he and his search team have available, what might seem impossible is possible.

For instance, during his two days in Marion County last week, Miller collected several GPS coordinates of areas of interest, including where Kara was last seen and where her vehicle was left abandoned. A volunteer on his search team works for NASA and has the ability to get archived satellite images of those areas, which could show who possibly abducted Kara or if anyone, besides Kara, was driving her vehicle the day it was left abandoned on the Bluegrass Parkway.

"We use every resource out there that we can use," Miller said. "And satellite images have worked on cases in the past."

Miller also said that his team has specialized sonar equipment, which they will be using to search several bodies of water. The team also has access to a specialized remote control airplane equipped with small cameras that can capture 3D images on the ground to see if anything could have been disturbed or could have been buried. His team also has special ground penetration units that can search for grave sites.

But, aside from the unlimited number of resources they have available to them, Miller said his search team has a strong following of members who take cases, like Kara's, personally.

"Several of our members have lost loved ones. That's why they're members," he said. "They take these cases personal. And they don't care whose feet they step on."

Miller said Texas EquuSearch is willing to give a $5,000 reward to anyone who has any information that could help with the search for Kara.

"They can call our office," he said. "They can tell us where to go search, and we'll go."

And, if the search team isn't successful when they return to Marion County, they will try again, he said. His search team has conducted multiple searches in the same place before they were able to find the missing person, Miller said.

"If we come up empty handed the first time, that doesn't mean the search is over," he said. "Kentucky is a whole lot closer than Aruba and I've been to Aruba nine times." (Searching for Natalie Holloway.)

Miller said he and his team of volunteers are determined to be a voice for Kara.

"These people that don't have a voice, once and a while we can be their voice," Miller said. "We're going to be the support for Sheila, this family and this community."

Texas EquuSearch: Lost Is Not Alone

Jamie Copenhaver, a retired detective for the Orange County Sheriff's Department in Orlando, Fla., is one of 1,400 volunteers who work with the Texas EquuSearch organization and he accompanied Miller during his visit to Marion County last week.

He and Miller met during the Caylee Anthony search.

Copenhaver, who now owns a private investigating business, has a 26-year career working with, not only the Orange County Sheriff's Department, but also the FBI and DEA.

He, himself, suffered the loss of a child when his daughter committed suicide, which is one of the reasons he was motivated to volunteer with Miller's search group.

"I can only imagine what these families go through not knowing where their loved ones are," Copenhaver said. "I know where my daughter is every day, but Sheila doesn't know where her daughter is. That's just horrible."

Copenhaver thinks technology is going to help solve Kara's case, specifically the satellite images which can go back in time and track to see who was where.

"It's huge," he said. "Hopefully, it's going to help bring Kara and other missing people home. More importantly, the folks that are responsible for these dirty deeds I think are going to be much more accountable for their actions."

Copenhaver said during his law enforcement career, he put hundreds of bad people in jail. And the common denominator with all of those people is that they made a mistake along the way.

"Whoever is responsible for this, they may think they are smart and elaborate. They may have people in their pocket. But, at the end of the day, everyone makes mistakes," Copenhaver said. "Technology doesn't lie. They can lie, but photos and technology can't lie."

Aside from technology being on their side, pure determination is also a driving force for the Texas EquuSearch team, Copenhaver said.

"The bad guys are determined and they have a clear plan and a mission when they do these murders and make people disappear," he said, "but Tim Miller and his group are much more determined than the bad guys."

According to Kentucky State Police Detective Jamie Richard, while KSP did not contact Miller or his team, he's more than willing to work with them in an effort to find Kara.

"They have resources that we can't even dream about," Richard said. "I think if they come back down here and the media plays its part we'll get some good tips."

Sheila Tingle said she is praying that with Texas EquuSearch and the KSP working together it will help her family find the answers they seek.

"God's hand and work is what brought Kara's case to their attention," Tingle said. "God has carried my family through this ordeal and will continue to do so." 

Search group offers $5,000 for information

Texas EquuSearch is willing to give a $5,000 reward to anyone who has any information that could help in the search for Kara Tingle Rigdon.

If anyone has any information related to Kara's case, call the Texas EquuSearch Team toll free at 1 (877) 270-9500 or (281) 309-9500. You can also call the Kentucky State Police at 1 (800) 222-5555. Detective Jamie Richard of the Kentucky State Police is in charge of the investigation. Tips can be made anonymously.

To read more about Texas EquuSearch, go to texasequusearch.org.

Kara Tingle Rigdon Reward Fund up to $9,000

A reward fund established for information leading to the whereabouts of Kara Tingle Rigdon is now up to $9,000, and is expected to increase even more in the coming weeks.

The family and friends of Kara's parents, Dale and Sheila Tingle, established a reward fund for information leading to Kara's whereabouts.

You can also make a donation to the reward fund, which is at Peoples Bank in Lebanon. If anyone in the community would like to donate money to the reward fund, please make your check payable to the Kara Tingle Rigdon Reward Fund, P.O. Box 5, Lebanon, Kentucky 40033. You may also drop your donation off at any Peoples Bank location.