Search for missing girl in South Africa ramps up as news of bloodied items found heightens emotions

This photo supplied by the South African Police Services shows a photo of Joshlin Smith who went missing on Feb. 19 in the Saldanha Bay area on South Africa's west coast, sparking a search by police. The South African navy was brought in Monday to help with the f6-year-old who has been missing for three weeks in a case that has captured national attention. (South African Police Services via AP)

This photo supplied by the South African Police Services shows a photo of Joshlin Smith who went missing on Feb. 19 in the Saldanha Bay area on South Africa’s west coast, sparking a search by police. The South African navy was brought in Monday to help with the f6-year-old who has been missing for three weeks in a case that has captured national attention. (South African Police Services via AP)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The South African navy was brought in Monday to help with a search for a 6-year-old girl who has been missing for two weeks in a case that has captured national attention, forcing police to ask people to give them space to work and stop encroaching on the operation and recording it on their cell phones.

Joslin Smith went missing on Feb. 19 in the Saldanha Bay area on South Africa’s west coast, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Cape Town.

Police, firefighters and specialized K-9 dog units have scoured sand dunes and scrubland near the informal settlement of shacks and small houses where Joslin lived.

Search teams have used drones to view large areas of ground, police said, and personnel from a South African navy base in Saldanha Bay have now bolstered the operation. A team of top detectives was sent from Cape Town to help lead the investigation.

Community members have also been involved in the search. Some of them claimed this weekend to have found a knife and girl’s clothing stained with blood, which they said they handed over to the police. Police said they had sent items found during the search to a laboratory for forensic examination but didn’t give further details.

They pleaded with the public to “desist from recording the searches” as interest in the case spiked following news that bloodied clothing had been found. People taking photos and videos of officers working “may adversely impact the investigation,” police spokesperson Brig. Novela Potelwa said, urging members of the public to keep their distance.

A photo of Joslin, with her smiling face, bright green eyes and hair neatly platted in pigtails, has been widely published, evoking sympathy, anger and fear that the little girl may be another example of South Africa’s appallingly high level of crime against children.

“People say that she just vanished. No, people do not just vanish,” said Theresa le Roux, a local government official. “Everybody sees something. Whether it’s stuck in your mind and you forget about it and later you remember. But somebody must have seen her somewhere. Somebody must have seen who she was with.”

Police Minister Bheki Cele met with Joslin’s family on Saturday and pleaded for calm among local residents after anger erupted over the young girl’s disappearance. Joslin’s mother, Kelly Smith, said she and her boyfriend were kept at a police station for their own protection after angry neighbors blamed them for not watching over the child. Police did not comment on that but Cele asked the community to remain calm “amid the finger-pointing.”

Smith, the mother, said she asked her boyfriend to look after Joslin when the young girl felt unwell and didn’t go to school on the day she disappeared. The boyfriend, Jacquin Appollis, said he lost track of where Joslin was and she was missing by the time her mother came back from work.

The Missing Children South Africa charity, which is helping in the search for Joslin, says police statistics indicate a child goes missing every five hours in the country. Around a quarter of the missing children are killed, trafficked, or never found, it said.

Police also launched a separate search for a 3-year-old boy who went missing in another town near Cape Town on Sunday.

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