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Search continues for missing Ashburn woman

By Caitlin Gibson
Sunday, March 6, 2011; T08

Loudoun County sheriff's deputies last week searched the home of the last person to see Bethany Anne Decker, 21, a pregnant Ashburn woman missing for more than a month, authorities said.

The sheriff's office declined to detail the outcome of the search Tuesday of the Centreville home where the man, described in court papers as Decker's current boyfriend, lives with his mother.

The search warrant affidavit indicated that investigators were looking for evidence that might help locate Decker. The results of the search were not available Friday at the Fairfax County Courthouse.

The Centreville man, the father of Decker's unborn child, saw Decker on Jan. 29, the court papers say. He moved out of Decker's Ashburn apartment in February, police said, and made conflicting reports to police about when he first noticed Decker's car parked outside her apartment, according to the affidavit.

Decker also has a 17-month-old son with her husband, U.S. Army Pvt. Emile Decker, who is serving in Afghanistan.

Both men have been interviewed by detectives and are cooperating in the investigation, said Vincent DiBenedetto, a Loudoun sheriff's spokesman.

Investigators said Friday that they have not uncovered signs of foul play and have not identified a suspect or a person of interest in the case.

Loudoun sheriff's investigators held a news conference Wednesday with Decker's family members to step up public outreach efforts in the hope that she will be found. Despite questioning regarding the status of Decker's marriage and whether Emile Decker was the father of Decker's unborn child, investigators did not mention any of the details in the search warrant affidavit filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court the day before.

An attorney for Decker's family declined to comment Friday.

"The Nelsons and the Bayleses are cooperating with the police fully," Peter Burns said. "The best way to help Bethany is to help the police."

Decker, a full-time student at George Mason University who is thought to be about five months pregnant, was reported missing by family members Feb. 19, weeks after she was last seen, according to authorities.

Sheriff's investigators said that Decker was reported missing after her family tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to contact her. Initially, family members thought Decker was busy with school and a part-time job as a waitress, said Kimberly Nelson, Decker's mother.

After weeks of hearing nothing from the young woman, Decker's grandparents, Ed and Evelyn Bayles of Columbia, went to her apartment on Orchard Grass Terrace on Feb. 19 and found her car parked nearby. They then contacted the police to report Decker missing, authorities said.

The vehicle showed no signs to indicate Decker's possible whereabouts, nor were there signs that Decker had planned to leave her apartment, although her lease was due to expire Jan. 31, according to the sheriff's office. Her cell phone, bank account, Facebook account and credit cards have not been used since Jan. 29, investigators said.

Nelson said it was unlike her daughter to be out of touch with her family and her young son, who lives with Nelson in Fredericksburg while Decker attends school. Nelson said she last had contact with her daughter Jan. 28.

"She was up in Maryland at my parents' house, and we were on speakerphone with her up there," Nelson said. "That was the last time that I'd spoken with her."

Nelson said Decker's friends also contacted the family and expressed concern that they hadn't heard from her.

Decker and her husband - described as "estranged" by the search warrant affidavit - were on vacation in Hawaii in late January while Emile was on leave from deployment in Afghanistan, according to authorities and Decker's family. Emile redeployed Feb. 2, a few days after Decker was last seen. Family members said that they thought it was unusual that Decker did not come to the airport to say goodbye to her husband.

Decker has never run away or disappeared before, Nelson said.

Evelyn Bayles, Decker's grandmother, said she has faith that Decker will return unharmed.

"Anything is possible. I hold on to that truth and that faith in our Lord that he's going to bring Bethany back alive," she said.

Family members and investigators described Decker as white, about 4 feet 11 inches tall, weighing 130 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information about her disappearance is asked to call investigator Mack Halley at 703-777-0475.

Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

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