Missing five-year-old April Jones had enjoyed a pal’s birthday party less than 48 hours before she was abducted, family friends have revealed.
At 12pm yesterday today around 200 local residents joined police rescue teams as they combed the entire town of Machynlleth, Mid Wales, for clues to her whereabouts.
Officers, including dog search teams, also scoured high-rise flats in the town as they hunted for April.
Yesterday police revealed she got “willingly” into a van near her home on the Bryn-y-Gog Estate, shortly after 7pm on Monday.
Family friend Phil Garrod said both of his children were at a birthday party with April on the weekend.
Friend of the family Phil, a local businessman, said: “I’ve got two little girls and they were both at a birthday party with April at the weekend.
“My youngest is in the same class at school.
“Where she lives is where all the children play together.
“It’s a safe environment, all the properties look on to where the children play.
“It’s the sort of area where you drop your children off at school and everyone lingers and chats.
“They are a normal family, lovely people.
“Her dad used to own a hardware shop in the town but that was a few years ago.
“One of the pictures we are using is of April on the shoulders of her father when the Olympic torch came through Machynlleth.
“It’s terrible that we are using such a happy picture to help find a missing girl.
“There are hundreds of people waiting here to go out there.
“People have been up through the night and won’t give up.”
Residents began searching for missing April hours after news of her abduction was revealed on Twitter.
Local resident Lynne Thomas, 39, added: “I’ve been up through the night. I only slept for an hour at 8am this morning.
“We went out looking as soon as we heard about it online.
“It was raining all night but we kept looking. No one is going to stop till we find her.
“I’m off out again now. The police are putting us in search groups to retrace our steps in daylight.
“It must be horrible for her poor parents.
“Someone said they are staying at home to answer any phone calls that might come to the house.
“I hope we find her before its dark tonight.”
Addressing the volunteers outside the town’s leisure centre British Transport Police Inspector Dai Davies said: “Between 7pm and 7.30pm yesterday a young child April went missing.
“And the purpose today is to conduct a search for that child.
“We are going to put you into groups of 15-20 and you will be accompanied by a special officer.
“Essentially we will be two large teams doing clockwise and anticlockwise searches around Machynlleth.
“We will be bringing in specialist teams to search the built-up areas.
“I’m really grateful to you all for coming.
“If you do come across any clothing at all will you please not touch it. Speak to the mountain leader in your group and they will phone in.”
April was wearing black school trousers, a white shirt and purple puffa jacket when she was bundled into a light-coloured van.
Another local woman, who refused to be named, slammed the police for taking until midday to organise searches.
She said: “People have been here since 8am this morning.
“The leisure centre was so full that people were waiting outside.
“It’s taken until 12pm to sort out searches but it will be dusk by 5pm.
“I think it should have been sorted quicker.”
Meanwhile, Kate and Gerry McCann pledged their support to the parents of missing April.
The couple are still hunting for their daughter Maddie who was snatched from her parent’s holiday apartment in Portugal on May 3, 2007 when she was just three years old.
The McCann’s official spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: “Kate and Gerry are aware of the case and their thoughts and prayers are with April, her family and the local community.
“If any contact is made between Kate and Gerry and April’s family it will be done privately.”