Search for Hart incorporates F.B.I. database

Kathy McCarty, Special to The County
17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – It’s been almost 18 months since Presque Isle resident Tela Hart disappeared, but loved ones haven’t given up hope that she’ll be found.
    “She’s still missing and we (family and friends) know in our hearts that she probably won’t be found alive. We just want to find her so we can finally understand what happened to her,” said Shannon Cole, Hart’s niece.
Hart was last seen around Oct. 9, 2005. Police were notified after family members became concerned when they hadn’t heard from Hart. Investigators, using the Presque Isle Police Department’s tracking K-9, Hunter, followed the route Hart reportedly took after leaving a Lenfest Street residence, heading toward the Presque Isle Stream.
“Hunter followed a scent to the river and would not leave the area. That’s why we believe Hart may have somehow ended up in the water,” said Det. Sgt. Wayne Selfridge, lead investigator on the case.
Selfridge said the department received a tip that Hart may have planned to stay under the State Street bridge when she couldn’t make other arrangements for the night. The bridge is a common hangout for those seeking shelter in warmer months.
“It’s not uncommon to find people camping under the bridge. The fact that Hunter led us to the stream and we received a tip that she might have intended to stay there for the night – it makes sense that she could have fallen in the water,” said Selfridge.
Over the holidays, Hart’s family gathered, remembering the missing woman and including her in their prayers as they feasted in Easton.
“On Nov. 11 we had a big family Thanksgiving in Easton. Even though my aunt wasn’t physically present, she was there just the same,” said Cole, explaining that a photo of her aunt was place at the table and those present shared stories of the missing woman. “Going through Thanksgiving and Christmas without her was really hard. We’re hoping we don’t have to do it again this year.”
Early in the investigation Selfridge said DNA samples were taken from close relatives to use for matching purposes, had a body turned up. Additional samples were taken recently and have been forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for cataloging purposes.
“Due to the length of time Hart has been missing, we needed additional DNA samples to use, should any remains be found. We collected new samples and have forwarded them to the F.B.I.,” said Selfridge. “A lot of rumors have surfaced about what happened to Hart and where she might be. We follow up on every lead but rumors tend to be just that, rumors. The F.B.I. is only involved because of their DNA database – that’s common in the case of a missing person.”
Selfridge explained that on the off chance a body is discovered in another state, officials will use the DNA in the federal database to help determine the identity of that person.
“While we believe Hart went into the stream, we’re not ruling out any possibilities. If a body turns up elsewhere, DNA will be used to determine whom that person is,” said Selfridge.
Selfridge has been working closely with other local law enforcement branches, including the Warden Service, Sheriff’s Office and Maine State Police, to try to solve this case.
“I’ve been working closely with other agencies, taking every step possible to locate her,” said Selfridge.
With temperatures rising and snow and ice melting, Cole and Selfridge are hopeful someone will notice something, anything, that will help close this case and put an end to one family’s anguish.
“We just want to know where she is – bring her home. We want to have closure,” said Cole. “If anyone has information, please come forward.”
Selfridge said although the case is over a year old, it remains one of his active cases.
“I won’t close the case until we find her. While we may not do the extensive searching we have in the past, officials will continue to follow leads and investigate the case until Hart is found. With warmer weather, people will be out picking fiddleheads, fishing and boating. Perhaps one of those individuals will notice something that will help close this case,” said Selfridge. “At this point, I believe the water carried her into Canada. If she’s found at all, I think she’ll be found over there.”
If anyone has information about the case, contact Selfridge at 764-4476.