Investigators say they are close to making an arrest in the case of a missing New York teen last seen nearly a year ago in Myrtle Beach.
Brittanee Drexel was last seen April 25, 2009, leaving the Blue Water Hotel on Ocean Boulevard during a spring break visit to the Grand Strand.
Dozens of searchers have scoured Myrtle Beach and wooded areas in Georgetown and Charleston counties looking for clues in the teen's disappearance. Drexel's family plans to return to the area April 24 to mark the anniversary of Drexel's disappearance, and they hope to generate new leads.
"I feel I need to return now to where my daughter was last seen in an effort to ask people not to give up looking for her," said Dawn Drexel, the teen's mother. "I cannot focus here in light of the new released information regarding my daughter."
Police identified at least three people of interest a while ago through tips that came in about the case, but the information was not made public until Friday.
Lt. Neil Johnson with the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office said he could not provide any information about the people of interest in the case because it would release too many details, but he did say the people live in South Carolina and close to the area.
"We've been looking at these guys for a while," Johnson said. "We're waiting for that key piece to make an arrest."
It is not clear when an arrest might be made, Johnson said.
With or without an arrest, the search for Drexel will continue, said Monica Caison, director of the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons in Wilmington, N.C. The organization conducts nationwide searches for missing people.
No large-scale searches have been conducted since December, but Caison said she and a few others have combed several areas including a search conducted a week ago. The searches have been concentrated in an area around U.S. 17 Bypass and the South Santee River in Georgetown County, where Drexel's cell phone gave off its last known signal on April 26.
Even though police have concluded that the search for Drexel is a recovery, Caison said she will remain hopeful that the teen will be found alive.
"I've had numerous families contact me and they hate it when people announce a person is dead. Families have a hard time digesting that," Caison said. "Although it may be true that she may not be alive, it still dashes any kind of hope. I know it's been devastating not only to the Drexel family, but mothers of missing kids and loved ones."