Four-year old Yesenia Thornton and her sister, Belinda, 5, had just finished taking a bath at their Southeast Washington home Thursday night when Belinda awakened her father, who had been napping on the living room couch.

"Belinda told her father that Sonya (Yesenia's nickname) had walked out the door," Sarah Thornton, the child's mother, said yesterday. "That's not like her."

Sarah Thornton, 32, who had just returned home from playing bingo, and her husband, Felix, fruitlessly searched the house at 4373 Barnaby Rd. SE for the missing child. At 10:30 p.m. the couple reported to police that their daughter was missing.

Thus began an 11-hour ordeal that involved more than 100 nearby residents and police officers, who searched the apartment complex and surrounding area for the child. A police helicopter and dogs were brought in to search the woods across from the apartment. City council member Wilhemena Rolark and her husband, Calvin, joined the search shortly after 2 a.m., when they learned about the case.

The search ended yesterday about 9 a.m. when Yesenia was found asleep under a bed in the family's second-floor apartment.

"There's no way she could have been under that bed," her mother insisted yesterday. "We searched there many times. That child was planted under there."

Asked where she had been, Yesenia said, "Sleep."

"It's weird," said Capt. William Anastos of the 7th District. "The mother said the child wasn't there. The sergeant and another officer said the child wasn't there. I can't believe somebody took her out and brought her back without being seen. It's one of those unexplained things."