The Fairfax County fire department normally responds to emergencies, but on Tuesday the fire chief said he was issuing his own urgent “911 call” for help in the mysterious disappearance of one of his firefighters.
Flanked by dozens of firefighters and a truck at Fire Station 32, Richard R. Bowers Jr. pleaded for tips from the public to help locate Nicole K. Mittendorff, who has been missing for nearly a week.
“We are putting out a 911 call to the general public and media,” Bowers said at the news conference.
Mittendorff, 31, of Woodbridge last contacted her family April 13, and her car was found Saturday in Shenandoah National Park, prompting a search by aircraft, dogs and rescue teams that has so far turned up no sign of her. Virginia State Police said they have no evidence to indicate foul play at this point.
Steve Mittendorff, her husband and an officer with the Virginia State Police, issued his own tearful plea at the news conference. Nicole Mittendorff’s sister and brother-in-law, who is also a Fairfax County firefighter, stood nearby.
“Sweetheart, I love you,” Steve Mittendorff said. “I am praying for you. I’m not sure where you are, but know that we are all looking for you, and I look forward to your safe return.”
Steve Mittendorff said it was “unbearable” not knowing where his wife was. He and Bowers did not offer new information about the circumstances surrounding her disappearance and did not take questions.
Nicole Mittendorff’s family members and the firefighters bowed their heads in a moment of silence to pray for her at one point during the news conference.
Nicole Mittendorff’s father, Robert Clardy, wrote in a message posted on Facebook that she did not show up for work Friday. He wrote that that was unusual for her, and Virginia State Police said Steve Mittendorff reported her missing on Friday.
Clardy wrote that his daughter’s last contact was a text message around 10:50 a.m. on April 13. Her last known location was in Warrenton, Va. She may have traveled to Shenandoah National Park to train, since she is an avid runner and triathlete.
A park ranger found Nicole Mittendorff’s cream-colored 2009 Mini Cooper in a pullout near Whiteoak Canyon Trail shortly before 8 p.m. on Saturday, Virginia State Police said. The trail is close to Old Rag, a mountain that is popular with hikers.
Virginia State Police said searchers spent Sunday combing the area. About 100 federal, state and volunteer searchers returned Monday as the search expanded from Whiteoak Canyon Trail to others in the area. The search resumed Tuesday morning and included members of the Fairfax County fire department who are part of a K-9 search-and-rescue team.
Virginia State Police said the area is mountainous and densely forested, so the search has been difficult. Police have declined to say whether anything was found in Mittendorff’s car that might indicate what happened to her or where she was headed.
Bowers, the fire chief, said Tuesday that the department had no indication that Mittendorff was in any kind of trouble in the days and weeks before she disappeared. He described her as a “high performer” who loved her job and was respected by her peers. Her locker at the station was filled with gear Tuesday, as if she had just finished her shift.
A prayer service was held for Mittendorff on Monday night at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Woodbridge, and the fire department was planning another vigil for her at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Station 32 in Burke.
Steve and Nicole Mittendorff’s wedding website describes her as an “Air Force brat through and through” who graduated from high school in Michigan and earned a degree in psychology from George Mason University. The website said she previously worked as a business analyst.
Nicole Mittendorff is described as white, with blond hair and green eyes. She is about 5-foot-6 and weighs about 125 pounds.
Anyone with information is asked to call 703-803-0026 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.