GEORGETOWN -- More than two years after 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel's disappearance, investigators in her case converged on a roadside apartment complex where a man convicted of raping a child once lived.
Officials declined to say anything about what they found inside Monday. But Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Chuck Capp said he didn't expect an impending arrest of the man who had stayed in unit 22 at the Sunset Lodge just outside of Georgetown.
"We've continued to follow numerous leads, and they're doing a search warrant of a person of interest," Capp said. "We think it's getting blown out of proportion."
Drexel, a Rochester, N.Y., teen who snuck away to the Grand Strand on spring break, was last seen April 25, 2009, on a Myrtle Beach hotel security camera. She told her mother she was spending the weekend at a friend's house after her parents told her she couldn't go to Myrtle Beach because of poor grades.
They learned that she had disobeyed their wishes at the same time they learned she was missing.
Drexel's cell phone gave off its last signal near the South Santee River in Georgetown County the day after her disappearance. Searchers on horseback and with teams of dogs have concentrated on the woods near there.
A manager at Sunset Lodge said the man in unit 22 moved in the day before Drexel disappeared. He left six months ago.
The man, as identified by the manager, was convicted of kidnapping and raping a child younger than 14 in 1983 in California. He was released from prison in 2004, according to federal records. He is a registered sex offender.
When approached by a reporter at his job site, he said, "I don't know anything about it, and I don't have anything to say."
Capp said police have several such "persons of interest" in the Drexel case. A task force composed of investigators from his department, the State Law Enforcement Division and the Georgetown and Charleston county sheriff's offices are working the case.
"It is certainly not a cold case," Capp said. "It has been an active case from Day One."
Monica Caison, founder and director of the North Carolina-based CUE Center for Missing Persons, said the task force continues to work new tips in the case. She said the ongoing effort means the public might see some of the work unfolding, as with Monday's search, but that much of it stays off the radar.
Although she didn't give any extra weight to the Sunset Lodge lead, Caison said, "I think anything that happens in Brittanee's investigation gets one more step closer to the truth.
"I'm grateful that there's information still circulating," she added. "A lot of cases can fall cold, but you have to remain hopeful."
Events following Brittanee Drexel's disappearance:
April 25, 2009: Drexel last seen on Myrtle Beach hotel security camera.
April 26, 2009: Drexel's cell phone gives off last signal near South Santee River.
May 5, 2009: Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry offers a reward of as much as $1,000 for information about Drexel's disappearance.
April 16, 2010: Drexel's mother, Dawn, appears on the "Today" show.
Sept. 13, 2010: An Albany, N.Y., church offers a $5,000 reward for information leading to Drexel's whereabouts.
Jan. 29-30, 2011: At least 150 people search 3 miles of wooded road in Georgetown County looking for clues.
Aug. 1, 2011: Investigators execute search warrant at Sunset Lodge near Georgetown.
To offer tips
Brittanee Drexel was 17 when she disappeared in 2009. She is about 5 feet tall and 103 pounds with blue eyes and blond highlights in her hair.
If you have information that may lead to her whereabouts or to the arrest of those responsible for her disappearance, contact the Myrtle Beach Police Department at (843) 918-1382.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594.
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