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Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said Thursday he cannot unequivocally state that a 9-year-old girl missing since February is dead, but his office’s investigation has not yet turned up anything leading him to believe she is alive.

Thom spent several hours Thursday morning with a group of about 35 people from multiple local and regional agencies searching for Serenity Dennard in the area she was last seen.

It was the latest of numerous official searches involving a total of more than 1,000 people who have collectively logged more than 4,300 miles searching for Dennard, according to the sheriff’s office. The searches have also included 91 canines and their handlers and seven aircraft.

It’s now been more than six months since Dennard ran away on the cold and snowy day of Feb. 3 from the Black Hills Children’s Home in a mountainous and forested area several miles south of Rockerville.

“It’s frustrating to people that we haven’t found her,” Thom said. “It’s frustrating to us that we haven’t found her. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop looking.”

Concurrent with the search for Dennard, the sheriff’s office continues to investigate her disappearance. That investigation has led the office to chase 195 leads in 15 states, conduct 440 interviews or contacts and execute six search warrants, according to the office’s own tally.

Additionally, information-sharing by the sheriff’s office with the media, on social media and with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has resulted in millions of views, according to web traffic monitored by the sheriff’s office.

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Thom’s office has been criticized by social media commenters, including some on a Facebook page called “Lynne Seeks Truth” that was created and is maintained by state Sen. Lynne DiSanto, R-Box Elder.

On Aug. 3, for example, a commenter on DiSanto’s page wrote this about authorities searching for Dennard: “When are they going to stop checking the same spots in the woods and realize she was probably kidnapped?”

Another person in the same string of comments on DiSanto’s page wrote, “They seem to have every excuse imaginable as to why they are unable to look for Serenity, first its too cold, then too hot, then the terrain and tall grass now it's the rally/bikers, LE [law enforcement] in that area is a complete joke!”

Yet another person in the same comment string on DiSanto’s page wrote, “Too bad the investigators don't do more, she's not in the woods, it looks more fishy as time goes on.”

Some comments posted to DiSanto’s page make allegations of wrongdoing against authorities. “This has ‘child trafficking’ all over it, and cover-up of authorities and/or governmental agencies possibly involved,” one person wrote in a comment posted to DiSanto’s page on July 29.

DiSanto said in an interview with the Journal about Dennard, “We don’t know if she’s in the woods. Someone may have her.”

Thom said if anyone has information about Dennard’s disappearance, they should report it to his office or another law enforcement agency.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."