- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

SILVER CITY, S.D. (AP) - Members of a missing Nebraska family whose car was found in the Black Hills of South Dakota were interviewed about allegations of abuse on the day they were last seen nearly two weeks ago, authorities said Thursday.

The black Ford Taurus was found Tuesday, and authorities searched Thursday for Matthew and Rowena Schade and their children, Devon, 11, and Sean, 8, in rugged terrain near the Pactola Reservoir and the village of Silver City.

Later Thursday, authorities said Matthew Schade had made phone contact with his father and said the family was doing well, wanted to be left alone and was prepared for an approaching snowstorm expected to hit the Black Hills on Friday.

Authorities scaled back the search to about a dozen people, down from 25, who combed the steep terrain in a two-mile radius around the car. The search stopped at nightfall because it became too difficult to navigate the loose rock and melting snow nearly 5,000 feet in elevation.

There are few level spots in dense forest to pitch a tent, but the terrain is sprinkled with abandoned mine tunnels that would make a warm, safe place for the family to wait out the storm, sheriffs Lt. Jay Evenson said. There are deer and mountain lions that could be hunted for food.

Because of the snow forecast for Friday, Evenson said he didn’t know whether the search would resume.

The family was last seen March 20 at its home 400 miles away in Creighton, Neb. All four were interviewed that day by a Knox County deputy sheriff about allegations of abuse, according to statements from Nebraska and South Dakota law enforcement agencies.

The deputy “made an offer of help and counseling. No arrests were made and no injuries were observed,” Knox County Sheriff Jim Janecek said in a release. He did not comment further.

Matthew Schade, 26, is on probation in Nebraska for burglary, and an arrest warrant was issued after he failed to notify a probation officer of his whereabouts, the statement said. Rowena Schade, 29, was also on probation but authorities did say why.

Investigators said the Schades, who spent their honeymoon in the Black Hills, had talked about relocating. It also appeared they left the house in a hurry with more than $1,000 worth of “camping survival type gear” they had recently purchased.

“We believe their intention is not to be found so we have to structure our search teams differently to make sure we have law enforcement on them. It’s pretty rugged terrain in there,” Maj. Brian Mueller of the Pennington County Sheriff’s office told The Associated Press.

For six straight years, Matthew Schade attended a survival camp in the search area through his church and “expressed he would like to live like a hermit in the mountains,” Mueller said in news release.

The ground and air search focused Thursday on the numerous abandoned mines, cabins and other buildings in the isolated Pactola Reservoir area, as well as meadows and creek beds that would serve well as a camp, Mueller said.

About 2 feet of new snow covered the area since the car was abandoned, Mueller said.

The vehicle was found in an area known as Jenny Gulch, some 25 miles west of Rapid City, about a mile away from an unpaved road. Several walking trails led from the area where the car was found.

___

Associated Press writers Carson Walker in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Timberly Ross in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.

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