ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was a search like no other in the history of missing child searches. On two separate occasions in the summer and fall of 2008, for a total of roughly three weeks, 1,500 to 1,800 people descended on Orlando to search for 2-year-old Caylee Anthony.
(SCROLL DOWN TO SEE EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS OF THE SEARCH EFFORT)
Nearly 2,000 volunteers selflessly spread out through miles of wilderness and swamps to locate the missing toddler. In some cases, they risked their own lives in the face of snakes and alligators.
Those who were physically unable to search volunteered at the command center. Others, unable to make the journey to Orlando, donated thousands of dollars of their own money to support the search effort.
What was it that drew them all there?
"It was her smile," said Barbie Tarr, a volunteer who traveled from San Antonio, Texas, to search for Caylee. "Her smile reached out and touched people's hearts."
Meredith Welch, a volunteer from Springfield, Mo., agreed.
"When you saw her face on the news, how could you not do everything you could to find her," Welch told The Huffington Post. "No one was putting forward any real effort to locate this missing child until Texas EquuSearch stepped forward. They did their part, so I felt compelled to do mine."
Despite everyone's best efforts, Caylee was not located during any of the searches. By chance, a meter reader stumbled onto her remains in December 2008. Her mother, Casey Anthony, 25, was later charged with her murder. Closing arguments in Anthony's first-degree murder trial ended Monday, and a jury of her peers began deliberating the case Monday afternoon.
Regardless of the outcome, those who searched for the Caylee nearly three years ago say they have been forever touched by the event.
"I still tear up when I think about it," said Jennifer Puller, an Orlando resident who, along with her husband Joel, helped search for Caylee. "I've never seen so many people come together for a common goal -- to find this innocent little girl who none of us had ever met before."
Barbie Tarr added, "She became America's little girl. She was in the hearts and minds of each and every one of us."
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