One year later, still no answers in girl’s two-day disappearance

It’s been a year since a toddler went missing for two days from her North Bloomfield home before she was miraculously found in a field, and the mystery of the case is still stumping law enforcement and her family.

“In some cases, it doesn’t matter how many rocks you turn over, you just can’t solve them,” Trumbull County Sheriff Thomas Altiere said.

No evidence was turned up that indicates someone took Rainn Peterson, now 3, from the home she now permanently shares with her great-grandparents and brothers. But her family and Altiere said they still don’t believe the girl made it out of the house and a quarter of a mile away from their state Route 45 house surviving rain and 40-degree temperatures all on her own.

Although the case isn’t closed, all resources and leads have been exhausted, Altiere said. The last-ditch effort by technicians at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations to reveal the content of text messages from people connected to the case have failed, as did DNA testing of the girl’s clothes conducted shortly after she was found in a field off Peck Leach Road by volunteer searcher and neighbor Victor Sutton.

“I hate to say it, but I don’t know if the case will ever be closed. At this point, we don’t have anything additional to go on,” Altiere said.

The news is disappointing, said Dora Mae Peterson. She and her husband, Richard Peterson, Rainn’s great-grandparents, were awarded custody of Rainn and her brothers after she emerged from a field Oct. 4, 2015, dehydrated, cold and weak, with a severe diaper rash, but otherwise unharmed.

However, Dora Mae Peterson said the memories of the ordeal haven’t been forgotten.

“The other day, there was a news report about the case, and she recognized herself on television. ‘That’s me!” she said. I want to see this resolved. I think it is important it is resolved for Rainn’s sake,” Peterson said.

The toddler is doing well and is envious of her two brothers, who started pre-school and kindergarten this year, Peterson said.

For months, she said, she trusted that the Sheriff’s Office would turn up something.

“We were just hoping and praying the law would take care of it, that there would be something, something to explain this all,” Peterson said.

Even with the case at a standstill, Altiere and Peterson have expressed doubt that the girl left the family’s home on her own.

Rainn was playing in the house the last time her family saw her that day, around 6 p.m. Oct. 2, 2015. Just 15 minutes later, Peterson called the family to dinner, and Rainn was nowhere to be found. They tore the house apart looking for the girl and soon moved the search to outside, where neighbors helped look.

The Sheriff’s Office was called soon after, and the number of people looking for the girl quickly grew as the evening darkened in the rural town.

“We were there an hour after the search started,” Altiere said shortly after the search ended. “We were using heat sensors. We and the neighbors were searching everywhere. Why didn’t they detect her? What’s that lead you to believe?”

At the time, Peterson said, the home had a working security system that should have notified them if a door was opened, and Rainn had never before been able to open the one door to the outside. Since the incident, a friend gave the Petersons an additional security system that notifies them whenever someone pulls into the driveway or walks on their porch, Peterson said.

The family dog is known for making a ruckus when anyone it isn’t familiar with comes to the house, and the dog was silent that day, Peterson said.

“A stranger couldn’t have gotten past him,” Peterson said.

Over the next day, hundreds of people combed the area, the best K-9s in the state came to help, and helicopters and heat sensors scanned the area. Bodies of water were combed.

It rained all day Oct. 3, and temperatures dropped to the low 40s.

Just as thoughts turned from rescue to recovery late in the day Oct. 4, Sutton spotted a shot of purple from the all-terrain vehicle he was using to search. There she was.

“The more I think about it, there is no way she could have got out on her own. It had to be done by someone, and it had to have been someone who wasn’t a stranger. For a long time, I didn’t think of it that way, but there is no other conclusion to come to,” Peterson said.

She said a doctor told her there is no way a child Rainn’s age could have survived two nights in the weather that weekend.

If someone did take her, they need to be punished for the anguish that the disappearance put Rainn, her family and the community through, Peterson said.

The family tries not to talk about what happened in front of the kids, Peterson said, but it has definitely affected them.

“It changed our whole lives,” Peterson said.

It is hard some days, raising their great-grandchildren as the couple ages into their mid-70s, Peterson said. But there are rewards, like when they, “put their little arms around my neck and say, ‘I love you, Grandma,'” Peterson said.

Altiere and Peterson declined to name who they think might have taken Rainn.

rfox@tribtoday.com