San Antonio Police Department via Facebook
(SAN ANTONIO, Texas) — An FBI dive team is assisting in the search for missing 3-year-old Lina Sardar Khil, authorities said.
The investigation has led the FBI’s underwater search and evidence response team to an area not previously searched, according to San Antonio Police Chief William McManus.
“We don’t want to leave anything to chance,” McManus told reporters during a press briefing Tuesday evening at the scene of the search. “Everything that we get that has any kind of potential at all, we follow it up. And that’s what we’re doing here today.”
The area is located near the family’s apartment complex, according to ABC San Antonio affiliate KSAT.
The chief said he couldn’t provide any additional information on what led detectives to the area, but noted the search will continue Tuesday until it gets dark, and pick up again Wednesday.
“I wish there was more uplifting information I could give you to at least provide some hope, but I don’t have any of that information, unfortunately,” he said.
Lina Sardar Khil was last seen on Dec. 20 between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. at a park on the 9400 block of Fredericksburg Road in San Antonio, according to police. The park is located near the family’s home at the Villa Del Cabo apartment complex.
Lina has brown eyes and brown hair and was last seen wearing a black jacket, red dress and black shoes. Police issued multiple Amber Alerts and said she could be in “grave danger.”
Lina’s family is part of the Afghan refugee community in San Antonio and speaks Pashto. Police have issued alerts in multiple languages to the community, urging anyone with information to come forward.
FBI joins ‘aggressive’ search
McManus said Tuesday Lina is still considered a missing person.
“Our Missing Person’s Unit is working tirelessly at receiving leads and tips on little Lina’s case,” a spokesperson for SAPD told ABC News. “We will continue to follow every lead, no matter how small, until Lina is located.”
The FBI said it is accepting any tips, video footage or insight on Lina’s whereabouts.
Agent Justin Garris of the FBI’s Justin San Antonio field office told reporters on Dec. 28 the investigation into Lina’s disappearance is “aggressive,” adding that the FBI has utilized its child abduction rapid deployment team, behavioral analysis unit, intelligence response teams and forensic examiners.
Authorities are asking anyone who has information on the case to call SAPD Missing Person’s Unit at 210-207-7660.
Community rallies behind the family
As the search continues, the community is rallying around the family by joining search crews and raising money to help find the child.
The Eagles Flight Advocacy & Outreach organization, a nonprofit in San Antonio, joined the search over the weekend with about 150 people from the Afghan community showing up.
“We can’t sit still. We have to do something,” Pamela Allen, CEO of Eagles Flight Advocacy and Outreach, told ABC News.
Allen said the group has been in touch with police and was actively searching surrounding areas that are points of interest in the case.
“Yesterday we had about 150 Afghani men and children come out and look for this baby,” Allen said, adding that seeing the community come together has been “the most amazing thing.”
The Islamic Center of San Antonio is also supporting the family by offering a $100,000 reward for anyone who can help police find Lina.
The Crime Stoppers of San Antonio has offered an additional $50,000 for information resulting in the arrest or indictment of a suspect accused of any involvement in the disappearance.
Lina’s family moved to the U.S. in 2019, her father, Riaz Sardar Khil, told KENS5 through a translator.
Khil said at first they believed that their daughter could be with another Afghan family in the community but now they believe she may have been abducted.
“During our entire lives we have not been as saddened as we were yesterday and today,” he said.
Culturingua, a San Antonio nonprofit that has been helping with the search for Lina, is a leader of the Afghan refugee response collaboration, a citywide effort to support the large influx of Afghan refugees in San Antonio.
Culturingua CEO Nadia Mavrakis told ABC News on Tuesday the organization’s programs include community development in low income and moderate income areas with a high percentage of refugees, including Lina’s family.
“There is tremendous pressure placed on the refugee resettlement agencies as this high influx of Afghans are coming into the community,” Mavrakis said, adding that the coalition seeks to support the integration of Afghan families in the community through services that go “beyond the scope and capabilities of the case workers.”
Nader Mehdawi, COO of Culturingua, told ABC News one of the “biggest challenges” that families like Lina’s face is the language barrier.
“A lot of the Afghan refugees coming here, they only speak Pashto or Dari,” he said, adding that this is one of the reasons many refugees “struggle to find work.”
Mavrakis, who visited the family on Friday along with other staff members, said that Culturingua is one of the organizations that has offered translation support to the family as they communicate with police and navigate the legal system.
The Afghan community started a GoFundMe account for the Khils so they can focus on the search for Lina and Culturingua has been working to get the word out to the Afghan community and the organizations within their network, she added.
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