Deputies search for missing girl

Detectives are paying close attention to one registered sex offender in this case involving the Ruskin 13-year-old.

Published April 13, 2005

RUSKIN - Deputies on horseback, sniffing K-9s and dozens of volunteers combed though the brush and walked the riverbanks of rural southeast Hillsborough Tuesday, searching for a 13-year-old Ruskin girl last seen Sunday morning.

Sarah Michelle Lunde disappeared from her family's mobile home sometime after midnight Saturday. Her older brother came home before dawn Sunday to find the front door standing open, and Sarah gone.

Sarah has run away from home before, and she's been mad enough at her mom to storm off, said Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee. But she usually returns after a few hours, and officials don't believe this is "a typical runaway," Gee said.

"There are persons or associates of the family with histories that concern us," the sheriff said. "There are some people who - their behavior is suspect at this time."

Gee said 24 registered sexual predators or offenders live near Sarah's home. By Tuesday, sheriff's investigators had spoken with all but three.

Detectives are paying particular attention to one registered sex offender in the area who "had a relationship with the mother" and had visited the family home before, according sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter. Officials would not release that person's identity.

"So far, we have had cooperation from that person," the sheriff said.

Over the weekend, Sarah went on an overnight trip to a mission camp with a youth group from the First Apostolic Church in Ruskin. Her mother went out of town, not expecting Sarah home until Sunday evening.

But Sarah showed up at the family home at 2812 30th St. SE, where she lives with her mother and three brothers, about 9 p.m. Saturday, Carter said.

Sarah asked her brother Alan Lunde, 17, to get her something to eat. He left for a restaurant and then hung out with friends until about 4 a.m., Carter said. When he got home, Sarah was gone.

"The front door was wide open and she was not around," Gee said.

When her mother, Kelly May, got home Sunday, she assumed Sarah was spending the night with a friend. May showed up at Beth Shields Middle School Monday to see if Sarah had made it to class, and reported her missing when she learned no one had seen her.

Sarah is 5 feet 2 and 170 pounds, with brown hair below her shoulders and hazel eyes. She was last seen wearing a white T-shirt and orange and blue basketball shorts. She has a bright green half cast on her left arm from a wrist injury.

Sarah has had a troubled history. When she was 9, she had "emotional issues (while living) in a foster home," Gee said. Sarah was taken into custody under the Baker Act, which allows authorities to hold someone for a mental health evaluation if they appear to be a danger to themselves or others.

Sarah's parents married in 1982 and divorced in 1998. Kelly May got custody of all five of the children, including Rebekah Lynn, 22; Richard Jr., 20; Alan; and Nicholas, 16. All live in the mobile home except Rebekah, who moved out recently after she finished school, Carter said.

Sarah's father Richard Nelson Lunde hasn't been in the picture for 10 years, said Carter. Lunde lives in Zephyrhills and works as an electrician, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report. Lunde has an arrest record dating to 1979 on charges including bigamy, harassment, domestic violence and writing worthless checks.

Tuesday, about 30 volunteers joined 70 sheriff's personnel as they combed the rural area by foot, using a helicopter, ATVs, horses and boats along the Little Manatee River.

As night approached, Sarah's mother stood before TV cameras outside First Apostolic Church. "Sarah, if you are listening to me, please call," May said. "Come home. We love you and we miss you very much."

The search was suspended at dark and will resume at 6 a.m. today, the sheriff said.

--Times researcher Cathy Wos and Kitty Bennett contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com