A Houston group that helped search the island of Aruba for Alabama teen Natalee Holloway and helped searches in 2010 and 2011 for men whose bodies were found in the Mississippi River is in New Orleans looking for a school teacher who's been missing since March 2.
A small crew from Texas EquuSearch launched a boat in Bayou St. John near New Orleans City Park Thursday and used sonar equipment to probe the bayou's murky bottom for 26-year-old Terrilyn Monette or her car. Monette was last seen leaving a New Orleans bar not far from the bayou in early morning hours of March 2.
Her mother, Toni Enclade, watched Thursday's search, at times unable to contain her tears.
"I can't begin to express how I feel regarding this, that I have total strangers reaching out to help me locate my daughter," Enclade said. "It really means a lot to me. Terrilyn, she's such a beautiful person. She's so beautiful, and I just want her back. I want her back."
The EquuSearch group, based in the Houston suburb of Dickinson, found cars on Thursday but none was Monette's, police said. On Wednesday, it searched City Park's ponds and lagoons.
Customs and Louisiana State Police helicopters flew over Lake Pontchartain and other areas as part of the search, city police said.
The search was expected to continue Friday and through the weekend.
Enclade said the worst part is not knowing what happened to her daughter.
"Is she being, you know, taken care of, or -- it's just the not knowing. That's the hurtful thing because I can't reach out and touch her to make sure she's OK."
Holloway's body was never found, though hundreds of volunteers searched Aruba and the ocean floor nearby.
Equusearch founder and director Tim Miller knows exactly how Enclade feels. His teenage daughter, Laura, was kidnapped and killed in 1984.
"I remember the helpless and hopeless and lonely feelings," he said. "I made a promise to God and Laura I'd never leave a family alone."
Miller created Equusearch, originally a mounted search and recovery team, in August 2000 in his daughter's memory. It's composed of volunteers, many who are experienced horse owners and many who have missing loved ones.
Volunteer Misty Garey, who has worked with EquuSearch for five years, hugged Enclade. She's been there -- Garey asked EquuSearch to help find a missing uncle in 2005 in Santa Fe, Texas. His body was eventually found; he had committed suicide, she said.
"I want to help bring families closure, or help bring their loved ones home alive," she said.
Miller said law enforcement often is limited in its ability to search for missing people.
"At times, we're their only hope and their last hope," he said. "Law enforcement is not always equipped to do the search. There are investigators out there doing the investigation end of it, we're doing the search end of it, and it's worked out well in hundreds of situations."
This isn't the first time Miller and his Equusearch team have been to New Orleans. They helped look for Douglas Schantz, president of Houston-based Sequent Energy Management, in 2010 and for Brian Reed, the 29-year-old brother of Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, in 2011. Both men's bodies were found in the Mississippi River; authorities said both drowned accidentally.
Miller said his team is using the sonar equipment it used in Aruba to look for Holloway.
"We've had a lot of success all around the country, but we're only as good as our next search, and this is our next search," Miller said. "It's frustrating. My heart goes out to the family. I'm one person who can say I know what they're going through. I know, and we're dedicated. We're here."