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Investigators search mine shaft for missing girls

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GALENA, Kan. (AP) -- The start of a long-delayed search for the remains of two missing Oklahoma teens comes as a relief to Lorene Bible, even if success means losing her last hope that her daughter lives.

"You hope we go in here and we can find something," Bible said as the treacherous search in a former mining area outside this southeast Kansas town began Tuesday. "Or that she's not here and now where do we look next?"

Her daughter, Lauria, vanished exactly 5 1/2 years ago while spending the night at the home of her friend, Ashley Freeman. Freeman's parents were found slain the next morning in the rubble of their burned mobile home, but the trail for the missing 16-year-olds went cold.

In January, a suspected serial killer jailed in Alabama allegedly told investigators to look for the girls' bodies in a hole southwest of town.

On Tuesday, law officers used a camera to search a water-filled mine shaft. Cadaver dogs began combing a half-mile square area Wednesday, but no evidence had been found by mid-morning, said Kyle Smith, director of public and governmental affairs for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the search.

Along with the heat, the searchers faced the threat of collapse in the heavily undermined area, Smith said.

"If there's a chance of recovering those girls, we're going to do it," the special agent said. He expects the search to last two or three days.

Investigators have doubts about the credibility of information provided by Jeremy Bryan Jones, 32, who lived in northeastern Oklahoma in 1999 when the girls disappeared.

The search was delayed in part by attempts to corroborate the details he provided, Smith said.

Craig County Sheriff Jimmie Sooter said Jones has confessed to killing Danny and Kathy Freeman, setting their home on fire and then posing as a rescuer to the fleeing girls. Sooter said Jones told him he shot the girls before dumping their bodies in Kansas.

"He was believable," Sooter said. "He knew some things about the crime scene that people shouldn't have known. We just have to go look and see if he's telling us the truth."

But Jones also recently told The Joplin (Mo.) Globe that he hadn't confessed to any killings and that the search was a waste of time.

Lorene Bible said finding the bodies would end "the wondering," as well as the painful rumors that the girls had been tortured and sold into prostitution.

"If Lauria were alive in the last five years and six months, she would have gotten to a phone," Bible said. "That part of wondering where she is -- you will know where she is," if the bodies are found.

Jones remains jailed in Mobile, Ala., where he faces a murder charge. He also faces charges for slayings in Louisiana and Georgia, but has not been charged in the Oklahoma case.

"We need to find evidence," Sooter said. "If we find bodies, then we know he's telling us the truth."
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