- Associated Press - Monday, November 15, 2010

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio (AP) — Investigators searched a lake for signs of three missing people Monday after a 13-year-old girl who disappeared along with them was found bound and gagged in the basement of a man’s home nearby.

Ten miles from home, Sarah Maynard was found alive in this central Ohio city on Sunday, four days after disappearing with her mother, her brother and another woman. The man who lived in the house where she was discovered, Matthew J. Hoffman, 30, was arrested the same day, and authorities hope he will provide information leading to the others, although it was not clear whether he knew either of the missing women, Knox County Sheriff David Barber said.

“We were hopeful that we would find more than one” of the missing people in Mr. Hoffman’s house, Mr. Barber said. “Our information was definite that it was most likely that Sarah was going to be in that house.”

Mr. Barber did not say what led investigators to the two-story tan-sided house. Mr. Hoffman was arrested and charged with kidnapping. Mr. Barber said more charges are expected against Mr. Hoffman, who lives at the home about 40 miles north of Columbus.

Authorities have said an “unusual” amount of blood was found at the home where Sarah lived with her 10-year-old brother, Kody, and her mother, 32-year-old Tina Herrmann, and they were testing it Monday.

Foundation Park, a public park with a lake a few blocks from Mr. Hoffman’s home, was closed Monday, initially by Mount Vernon police because an officer patrolling overnight had found what he thought was bloody clothing potentially related to the investigation, police Capt. George Hartz said. But tests did not find any human blood on the clothing, he said.

The city reopened the park at midmorning, only to have it closed again a half-hour later by county and state authorities so they could search the lake with a boat equipped with sonar, Capt. Hartz said. He did not have other details on the lake search.

Neighbors had said Mr. Hoffman frequented the park, which was once a gravel quarry and now has three lakes where people fish. It was difficult Monday to see any police activity through the thick trees bordering the park.

Mr. Barber was scheduled to brief reporters Monday afternoon. His office said no updated information would be released until that time.

Mr. Hoffman was being held in the county jail, where personnel would not comment on whether he had an attorney. A bond hearing was tentatively scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Mount Vernon Municipal Court clerk’s office said.

Mr. Barber said the girl was hospitalized in good condition, but he would give no details.

Ms. Herrmann, her children, and Ms. Herrmann’s 41-year-old friend, Stephanie Sprang, disappeared Wednesday from Ms. Herrmann’s home in nearby Howard. Mr. Barber said DNA testing on blood found in that house was expected to begin Monday.

Authorities believe the girl had been “under the control” of Mr. Hoffman since Wednesday, when she and her brother last attended school, the sheriff said. He did not know if Mr. Hoffman was connected to either Ms. Herrmann or Ms. Sprang, but said he is not the ex-boyfriend of either woman.

“At this time, whether he’s connected to the family or whether he connected himself to the family … a lot of that remains to be seen as the investigation continues,” Mr. Barber said.

Authorities had talked to the girl but would not release any details because the investigation is ongoing, Mr. Barber said.

Authorities blocked off about a half block on either side of the home as they investigated early Sunday afternoon, keeping people from entering or leaving about a half dozen homes. But by late Sunday afternoon, the only sign of investigative activity was red and white evidence tape sealing the front door of the home.

The house with green shutters and front door and a large television antenna on the roof sits in a lower-middle-income neighborhood with two bars within a block. Holly grows through the weathered slats of the porch. A sheet covered one window, and blinds were pulled down on the rest.

Dawna Davis, 35, who lives next door to Mr. Hoffman, said she told her children to stay indoors when he was out. She said he moved in alone about a year ago and that a girlfriend lived with him temporarily with her son until about a month ago.

“He would sit and listen to us up in a tree. He had a hammock and he would sit there and listen to us,” she said. “He was just different. He was very different.”

Ms. Davis said Mr. Hoffman did tree trimming work and had built a fire Wednesday night in his backyard, where there was a mound of ashes Sunday with tree parts on it. She said he walked to Foundation Park almost every day and was a “nature person” who collected leaves.

Attempts to reach relatives of Mr. Hoffman and of Sarah were unsuccessful Sunday.

Ms. Herrmann was reported missing Wednesday when she did not show up for work at a local Dairy Queen. Mr. Barber has said blood indicating an injury had been found in her home, where Ms. Sprang’s vehicle was in the driveway.

Ms. Herrmann’s pickup truck had been found Thursday night near the Kenyon College campus, leading to a lockdown at the school.

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