Three-year-old Lina Sardar Khil was romping around the playground of a San Antonio apartment complex last week when her mother stepped away to get water.
Her parents have never been so sad, Khil told KENS 5 through an interpreter Tuesday. “And it has badly affected us.”
As the search for Lina enters its second week, police said they have spared no resource to find her. Helicopters have flown overhead, officers have searched the trunks of cars leaving the apartment complex, and FBI agents have arrived to help. Rewards offered by the city and the Islamic Center of San Antonio total $150,000.
Each passing day makes officers slightly less hopeful that Lina will be found safely, Police Chief William McManus said. But he emphasized that they are not giving up.
“We will continue this search until we go completely cold,” McManus told reporters. “We are not stopping.”
Nearly 90,000 people were reported missing in the United States last year, about one-third of them juveniles, according to data from the FBI. Those statistics received renewed attention this summer when the disappearance of 22-year-old Gabby Petito dominated news and social media and prompted soul-searching about the disproportionate attention paid to missing White women.
In San Antonio, the Afghan committee at the Islamic Center, where Lina’s parents are members, has been checking on the couple and acting as interpreters in their conversations with police and others, Michael Martin, a spokesman for the center, told The Washington Post. Khil visited one of the mosque’s prayer services on Friday and thanked community members for their support. The congregation prayed for Lina’s safe return, Martin said, and members greeted Khil one by one after the service.
Most community members who emigrated from Afghanistan are intimately familiar with tragedy after living in the war-torn country, Martin said. Now, some fear that a different kind of danger awaits them in their new home.
“They’re coming here thinking that things are going to be better. And for the most part they are way, way better,” Martin said. “But they’ve gone from one area that you have to be on guard to another.”
Khil told KENS 5 that Lina may have been abducted. Otherwise, he said, one of the families in San Antonio’s Afghan community probably would know where she was.
Police said they are treating Lina’s disappearance not as an abduction but as a missing-person case. McManus said officers would conduct the search the same way in either scenario but do not have evidence that someone took her.
“If it were an abduction, we could either be looking for an individual or we would have evidence of the child being abducted and hopefully a tag number or a suspect to go along with that,” McManus told reporters Wednesday. “Right now, we don’t have any of that, so we’re treating it strictly as a missing person. That may change.”
An Amber Alert issued for Lina on Tuesday remains in effect, and McManus said Lina’s parents are cooperating with the investigation.
Lina was described as 4 feet tall, weighing 55 pounds, with brown eyes, brown hair and a light complexion. She was last seen wearing a red dress, black jacket and black shoes. Police ask anyone with information about her to call 210-207-7660. Tipsters can remain anonymous.
For now, Khil told KENS 5 that he was grateful to officers for their efforts to find Lina. He and his wife have struggled to sleep since she went missing, he said.
Asked what he missed most about his daughter, Khil smiled briefly.
Then he turned away from the camera, sank to the ground and cried.
An earlier version of this report misspelled the name of Gabby Petito.