MOBILE, AZ - Crews on Monday began Day 1 of a massive landfill search for missing 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley.
Spokesman Brent Coombs with Glendale police said it's likely Jhessye's body was transferred to the Butterfield Landfill in Mobile, south of the Valley.
"It is kind of a sad thing, having to look for what they are looking for," said Coombs.
The search, underway at the largest landfill in Arizona, began 7 a.m. Monday.
Police have targeted a specific section approximately 180 feet by 200 feet, and more than 20 feet deep. Sources told ABC15 there are roughly 6,000 tons of trash there which will be removed scoop by scoop.
The section is located on the western side of the landfill, about a half mile in, and not accessible to residential areas, Coombs said.
Police tell ABC15 40 people will work eight hours a day on the operation. Those who are searching will be split into two teams of 12.
Coombs explained that the trash is so tightly compacted that when it is removed it expands to two to three times in size.
The search team includes sworn officers, detectives, members of the FBI, and Child Abduction Response Team (CART).
Coombs said a forensic team with Glendale police is standing by in case evidence is recovered.
The search team will use equipment to pick up the trash and bring it to a sanitary search deck where it will be sifted through in smaller sections.
A HAZMAT response team, medical helicopter, paramedics, and the fire department are also on hand monitoring the health of personnel.
The search is not only a difficult one but a dangerous one. All the officers are wearing hazardous materials suits and air quality checks are ongoing to assure their safety.
Most of the officers on-duty for this search volunteered.
"It is important to them," said Coombs. "The simple fact is that no 5-year-old should be left in a landfill."
Coombs explained that new GPS technology that was not available in landfill searches is giving them hope.
"We have one day's trash piled up where we are searching," he said. He said they are investigating tracks, and the very truck they believe transported the girl's remains to the landfill.
Jhessye went missing Oct. 11, 2011. Police believe her body was dumped in a trash can in Tempe which was later taken to Mobile.
Coombs said sources told police the body may have been dumped before she was reported missing.
Coombs declined to talk about any forensic evidence that may be available.
Police say this is an active homicide investigation. Jerice Hunter, Jhessye's mother, is a primary focus.
Scott Maasen, Hunter's attorney, questions why it took months for police to conduct a landfill search.
Police say extensive planning went into a job site analysis, gathering information and equipment.
Maasen said Hunter still believes Jhessye is alive. Meanwhile, some of Hunter's family members have said they believe Jhessye is dead and hope police will recover the body.
The search could take several weeks. Check back for updates.
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