The volunteers tasked with searching for 3-year-old Sherin Mathews say they believed they would be able to bring the little girl home.
"I started doing this a long time ago in the military, and there was always a sense of bringing somebody home was something good," said Jerry Seevers, one of the K-9 handers on the scene Sunday when Sherin's body was discovered in a drain in suburban Dallas.
Seevers and 15 other handlers help make up the team at the nonprofit MARK9 Search & Rescue. The team is made up entirely of volunteers who are specially trained to help law enforcement and first responders in search and rescue operations.
MARK9 assisted Richardson police in several prior searches for Sherin Mathews as police looked in wooded areas near the Mathews family home, helping police rule out certain spots and refocus on others.
Sunday, five pairs of volunteers and dogs from MARK9 responded to another request from Richardson police to search for Sherin again. Searchers say the weather conditions were ideal. Overnight rain along with a breezy and humid morning helped dogs pick up the scent.
One K-9 led her handler to a field north of the Mathews home and eventually to the culvert where investigators found the small child's body.
"She started doing it from a long way off, and it wasn't an area she was supposed to be looking in, but that's how it concluded," said Seevers, of the K-9's path. "She found her way there. One of the things we have to do is we have to believe in them and she took us there."
The teams assist in a wide range of searches, responding to calls from law enforcement at all hours.
"When they say it's a child involved, it's 100 percent everybody in," Seevers said.
In the Sherin Mathews case, the discovery was not the outcome the community hoped for, though it was necessarily to the investigation.
On Wednesday, Sherin's adoptive father Wesley Mathews was put on suicide watch at Dallas County Jail. He has been charged with felony injury to a child.
Mathews originally told police that Sherin disappeared while being punished, where she was forced to stand outside by a tree at 3 a.m. for not drinking her milk. A day after her body was found, Mathews told police that his daughter choked to death after he "physically assisted" her in drinking her milk. He then told police that he moved her body from the family's Richardson home, though police haven't said where he said he took the little girl's remains.
"Being able to bring closure, whether it's a good closure or one you're not expecting, to me is very rewarding," said Chris Holmberg, a chief financial officer for a construction company who volunteered the day before Sherin was found with her German Shepherd, Hope.
"You're still dealing with the loss. It's not ours particularly, but once you're involved, you're involved. It becomes a part of you," Seevers said.
He adds that it only strengthens the team's resolve to continue to respond when rescuers call for help.
"You never know when the next call is coming. The fact that you were successful gives you something to say, let's go find the next one," Seevers said.