SAN ANTONIO — Investigators packed up their gear Wednesday afternoon and announced their two-day search was over. The latest lead in the 20-year-old unsolved murder of Jennifer Odom amounted to nothing.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office, which is leading the case, had tried to keep this part of the investigation quiet for fear of garnering false hope. They have fielded hundreds of calls over the years with supposed information in the case of the 12-year-old east Pasco girl who was abducted from her bus stop on Feb. 19, 1993. She was found in Hernando County six days later, dead from a blow to the head. Her killer has never been found.
Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, divers from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and the FBI combed Lake Jovita, chasing a new tip in the cold case and drawing curious residents and a herd of reporters and television trucks.
On a different part of the lake, Clare Christmas watched authorities and divers work. She has lived in the area for decades, she said, and remembers how much Odom's disappearance and death rocked the small community.
Her living room window points straight out into the lake, and while she looked through the glass, she remembered.
"It was a couple weeks before (Odom) disappeared," she said. "She was taking water skiing lessons."
All the activity this week, though, was fascinating. Christmas hoped the search would at least find something.
But it wasn't meant to be.
"A lot of people are going to be disappointed," she said.
Greg Smith, who lives next door to the house where police cruisers were parked Wednesday, said the lake bottom is mucky and plunges deep in some spots.
Just off the end of his dock, not far from where divers were searching, he said the water is about 29 feet deep. Plus the lake bottom is festooned with underwater hydrilla plants that would decrease visibility.
"If you were just poking around down there," he said, "good luck."
Morning heat gave way to afternoon rain, and then the divers packed up. Around 3 p.m., men in FBI shirts lugged scuba tanks and boxes through wet grass to trucks in the driveway.
About 3 miles north, in a rain-damp cemetery bordered by pastures and orange groves, there was a headstone under a tree.
It was surrounded by bouquets of brightly colored flowers and filled with messages of hope and light, and a name: Jennifer Odom — August 25, 1980-February 19, 1993.
Next to the black marble slab, a smaller vase of roses lay on its side, waiting for someone to pick it up.
Contact Jon Silman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229. Contact Alex Orlando at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.