SAN ANTONIO – Members of the FBI’s Underwater Search and Evidence Response Team have flown in from Washington, D.C., to help San Antonio police in the ongoing search for missing 3-year-old Lina Khil, SAPD Chief William McManus said Tuesday afternoon.
McManus said police are following up on a lead they got from the work investigators have been putting in behind the scenes.
“We don’t want to leave anything to chance,” McManus said of the investigation during a news conference.
The chief said the dive team would be using technology to search underwater to follow up on the lead.
The area the FBI dive team is searching is on the Northwest Side, not far from the Villas Del Cabo apartment complex in the 9400 block of Fredericksburg Road, where Lina was reportedly last seen on Dec. 20. The child was wearing a black jacket, red dress and black shoes the day she was reported missing.
Police had not searched underwater before the dive team’s arrival, according to McManus.
“We’ll go as far as we need to go to satisfy the lead that we’re looking at,” McManus said to news media.
The chief said the family is aware of the dive team’s arrival and their search. No other new information on the disappearance of Lina was released during the news conference.
“I wish I had more uplifting news,” McManus said.
Hesham Werfelli, who owns a business near the latest search area and is a member of the same mosque Lina’s family attends, said someone in the community submitted a new tip at the end of last year.
“I don’t want to say who, but someone reported a tip that around New Year’s Eve. We had a group of us here. We saw someone walking in the back area with a flashlight. It didn’t really click,” Werfelli said.
Werfelli, who has been part of small search teams following up on any sightings and leads, says no words can explain what his community is experiencing after Lina’s disappearance.
“It really hits you when it’s someone that you see in your community on a weekly basis. You know, we’re a tight-knit family,” he said.
The father of three said it’s been two weeks of emotional highs and lows.
“When we’re out there searching, we’re making supplication to God. We’re just asking Him, you know, to help us find a way to help put some closure in this situation,” Werfelli said.
Werfelli hopes closure is near for the community and Lina’s family.
“As a Muslim, I know that whether something happened to her or not, she’s in good hands,” he said.
The FBI dive team is expected to search underwater on Wednesday. Drones are also being used to explore the wooded area.
The Texas Department of Public Safety stated the AMBER Alert for the girl was still in effect Tuesday afternoon. Below is everything we know so far about the missing person case.
San Antonio police released the following video of Lina Khil:
SAPD asks for public’s help, tips to aid in search for Lina Khil
San Antonio police are asking for specific people to reach out to its Missing Persons Unit to help aid in the search for Lina.
Any residents who were at the Villas del Cabo Apartment Complex, which is located at 9400 Fredericksburg Road, between 4:30 p.m. to 5:10 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 20, are urged to contact SAPD at 210-207-7660 with “actionable tips.”
Also, anyone who spoke with Lina or her family at any time on Monday is urged to contact the police as soon as possible.
“No detail is too small as we continue to search for Lina,” SAPD said in a release.
Although the police presence at the family’s home looked different during the holiday, the department said their resources to aid in the search for Lina are being redirected “to be as proactive as possible.”
Police are treating the disappearance as a missing person case, not an abduction
Though San Antonio police asked the FBI to deploy its child abduction rapid response team to aid officers in their search, SAPD Chief William McManus clarified that investigators do not have any reason to believe Lina was abducted.
“If it were an abduction, we could be looking for an individual or have evidence of a child being abducted,” McManus said. “Right now, we don’t have any of that. That may change, but right now, it’s still a missing person.”
Another reason they are treating it as a missing person case is that there is not currently a suspect, he said.
SAPD has used canines in the search, which is still contained to the San Antonio area.
But the FBI’s rapid response team has resources that the department doesn’t, McManus said.
“If we have video that’s not real clear, they can work on their end to clarify any video footage,” he said. “They have resources, they have boots on the ground here that are helping us canvas the area.”
FBI agents have been seen knocking on residents doors, as well as checking in with nearby businesses.
“FBI showed up and they searched my apartment. They looked under the bed, under the couch outside They had this questionnaire. Going through questions, ‘Would you be willing to give a DNA sample if needed?’” said an apartment resident who did not want to be identified.
Officers continued searching areas surrounding the apartment complex, but as time passes, so do their chances of finding Lina.
“The longer the time lapses, the less hopeful we become,” McManus said.
Muslim community, Crime Stoppers offer $150K reward combined for information on Lina
A cash reward was put up by the Islamic Center of San Antonio on Wednesday, Dec. 22. It initially started out as a $10,000 reward before multiple donations were received, totaling $100,000 on Thursday, Dec. 23.
Crime Stoppers also announced late Thursday, Dec. 23 it is also offering a reward of $50,000. Both rewards combined total $150,000, if the tip helps lead authorities to the young girl, and an arrest.
Lina and her family are refugees from Afghanistan
Margaret Constantino with the Center for Refugee Services told KSAT that the child’s family is among the Afghanistan refugees in San Antonio.
At least 1,300 people from Afghanistan have come through the Center for Refugee Services for resettling here.
While she knows very little about the family, including when exactly they came to the United States, Constantino says any missing child is everyone’s missing child.
“And like any big family with lots and lots of little kids, all of these children are precious to us,” she said. “Knowing this community, they’re very close-knit. So people will be out there beating the bushes, looking for this child.”
Lina disappeared at a playground
Lina was at a playground at the apartment complex with her mother and other children between 5-6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20, when her mother left and returned to find her daughter missing, the chief previously said.
It is unclear exactly how long the mother was away, but McManus said she returned a “short time later.” McManus said the girl wasn’t left alone and there were other kids at the playground, which is open within the complex.
The family reported the child missing around 7:15 p.m., and an AMBER Alert was issued.
Officers searched the area by foot and air that day but did not locate her. SAPD continued their search in the week and asked the FBI for assistance.
Officers went door by door to each apartment — there are under 300 units in the complex — to search for Lina.
Officers also searched for video, checked cars and dumpsters, and recorded license plates due to the “suspicious nature of the disappearance,” he added.
“We have every available asset in the police department working on the case right now,” he said, adding that “we are sparing no assets or resources.”
So far, the mother and residents have been cooperative, McManus said.
“Nobody comes and goes without talking to a police officer,” he said.
Anyone with information about her disappearance is asked to call SAPD’s missing person unit at 210-207-7660.