Relatives of missing 12-year-old Brittany Mae Smith appealed today to the man suspected of holding her to let the girl come home safely for Christmas.
The women, all sisters of Brittany's murdered mother Tina Smith directed their pleas at Jeffrey Scott Easley, a 32-year-old man who moved in with Brittany and her mother in October and was last seen on a surveillance camera leaving a Walmart store in Salem, Va., with Brittany last Friday.
"Mr. Easley, I know you don't know me, but, sir, please let Brittany come home for Christmas," said Rhonda, one of Brittany's aunts, at a press conference. The women did not want to reveal their last names.
Another aunt said, "Jeff, we hope you'll do the right thing and bring Britt home. We'd like to have her back so we can say goodbye and make final funeral plans for her mom."
The search for Brittany and Easley now spans eight states and police have received 500 tips..
"I've been in police work a long time... not to hear anything or not to have any confirmed sightings, that's a great deal of concern to me," Roanoke County, Va., Police Chief Ray Lavinder said.
Police issued an Amber Alert for Brittany on Dec. 6 after discovering the body of her 41-year-old mother.
A coroner ruled the death a homicide. Police said that finding Brittany and Easley is key to the murder investigation.
"I think that once we locate Brittany -- and we're concerned about her safety and that's paramount in our objectives here -- once we locate her and Mr. Easley, I think that will open a lot of doors for us in the homicide investigation," Lavinder said at a press conference earlier this week.
The search for the missing seventh grader led law enforcement to issue Amber Alerts in North Carolina, California, Florida, Alabama, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Billboards with Brittany's picture have also been put up in those states too.
Along with the expanded search, authorities said that Easley bought camping equipment including a blue, Ozark Trail domed tent.
"It could be at a camping facility or it could be anywhere," Lavinder said of the tent.
On Wednesday, Virginia police obtained a felony warrant against Easley for the abduction of Brittany.
"We're certainly pursuing him to execute this warrant," Lavinder said. "Never forget the fact that she's a 12-year-old girl in the company of a 32-year-old man, she's at risk and we're very concerned about her safety."
The chief also said that investigators believe someone may be helping Easley and Brittany.
"I'm almost positive that someone out there knows where Brittany and Mr. Easley are. The weather has been very bad … they need food. Someone, if they are still in this region, is hiding them, I'm certain of that," Lavinder said.
Police aren't ruling out the possibility that Brittany may have gone willingly with Easley, but they reiterate that she is still in danger.
"We've heard a lot of rumors about a relationship between Mr. Easley and Brittany and I'd like to say this morning is -- what we're dealing with is a 12-year-old girl and she can't make legal decisions. Consent is irrelevant if she wanted to go with him or not go with him," Lavinder said.
Friends Describe Tina Smith As Trusting
As police focus on finding Brittany, friends of the missing girl's family said that Brittany's murdered mother, Tina, was too trusting.
Lisa Ennemoser and Mark Lankford have known Tina Smith since childhood.
"She would give you the shirt off her back, she would do anything to make you laugh," Ennemoser told ABC affiliate WSET.
Now, police are investigating whether Tina Smith's willingness to let Easley live with her and her daughter led to her daughter's disappearance and her own death.
Tina Smith and Easley began an online relationship this summer. Easley moved into the family's home in October. He worked as a landscaper.
Along with questions about the nature of Tina's relationship with the man, investigators are still determining Easley's relationship with Brittany.
The missing seventh grader's Facebook page lists her name as "Brittany Easley" instead of her legal name. Her Myspace page's latest update reads "Brittany Easleys what they call me."
Police Chief Urges Public To Be On The Lookout
Lavinder has asked motorists to be on the lookout for Tina Smith's 2005 silver Dodge Neon with the Virginia tag XKR-2365. Attached to the back of the car is a spoiler.
They are also hoping that Brittany is able to use her cell phone and send a message to one of her friends who she normally contacts daily.
Along with the warrant for abduction, police have filed charges of attempted credit card fraud and credit card larceny against Easley because the Walmart purchases were made with Tina Smith's credit card, according to a press release from the Roanoke County Police Department.
Brittany is 5 feet tall and weighs 100 pounds. She has straight brown hair and brown eyes. She is wearing several bracelets including a bright green rubber bracelet with yellow cursive writing. The bracelet is in memory of her brother who died last summer.
Brittany's brother accidentally killed himself in 2009 playing a choking game that led to his death. Tina Smith appeared on ABC affiliate WSET to speak out against the game.
"It'll prevent another mom from going through this, another life being lost, another sister crying out in her sleep for her brother," Tina Smith said.
If you know anything about Brittany Mae Smith's disappearance, authorities urge you to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Roanoke County Police at 540-777-8641 or the Virginia State Police at 1-800-822-4453.