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Friends from far away search for missing local woman

ST. PETERSBURG — Amanda Bott spends her days searching for her childhood friend, who went missing here in February.

She coordinates volunteers, posts search updates and shares her grief — all on her laptop from more than 1,200 miles away.

"It's nerve-racking," she said. "I wish she would just call."

Bott is leading a group of family and friends in other states using the Internet to search for 22-year-old Laura Nimbach.

From her Michigan home, Bott, also 22, posts fliers on Craigslist and uses social networking Web sites to bring attention to the case.

"It's just a way to get it out to people since we're not down there," she said.

As of Friday, the Facebook group "Finding Laura Nimbach" had more than 400 members. The Twitter user "FndLauraNimbach" has 20 followers. Bott also started a blog at, chronicling fundraising attempts and search updates.

Nimbach's older sister, Rene Benedetto, who lives in Colorado, also helps maintain the sites. The two women also rely on help from locals such as Melissa Hutcheon to spread the word of the woman lost.

• • •

Laura Marie Nimbach grew up in Livonia, Mich.

Bott met her at a homecoming dance. The pair became fast friends. They watched America's Next Top Model marathons together. They shared Bott's mother.

When Bott forgot Mother's Day, Nimbach came over with a card for Bott's mother. They celebrated birthdays and Christmases together.

"She was like another member of the family," Bott said.

Nimbach was determined, Benedetto said, working as a nanny to pay her way through private high school after her father couldn't afford it.

"She was the golden child," Benedetto said. Everyone loved her.

Benedetto, nine years older than Nimbach, and her sister Marilyn would fight over whom Nimbach loved more or who would take care of her.

Nimbach went to Wayne State University. She wanted to be a nurse.

But working nights at a bar overwhelmed her. She couldn't work and go to class.

She moved to Port Richey in 2006 with Bott, who later moved back to Michigan to go to school.

She discovered oxycodone nearly two years ago — and an abusive boyfriend who dragged her across the floor by her hair.

She was good at hiding her addiction over the phone, Bott said.

Nimbach's family took her to a Kentucky detox center last June.

They thought she was clean.

While she lived in Florida, Nimbach would visit Colorado, Benedetto said. She always brought a pet.

"She was always rescuing some animal or another," Benedetto said. The last rescue was Vernon, a mammoth black cat.

Nimbach took Nina, her 9-year-old niece, ice skating. The two played dress up.

Every day, Nina's mother is reminded of the sister she has lost.

"They have the same 'Little Miss Thing' attitude," Benedetto said.

Nimbach came back to Florida in January after bouncing around from Kentucky and Colorado. She had been staying at a domestic violence shelter.

The last time her sister spoke to her was Valentine's Day. Police saw her three days later, sleeping behind a building near Memorial Park Cemetery in St. Petersburg.

After that, Benedetto's calls went straight to voice mail, which was full in a few days.

Then the phone was shut off.

"It went from us talking to her on a daily basis to nothing at all," Benedetto said.

She said police wouldn't take a report for six weeks, saying Nimbach was a transient.

"She's now just a face," Benedetto said.

• • •

Melissa Hutcheon first saw Nimbach on Facebook, a popular social networking Web site. She didn't know her; she was just "a friend of a friend of a friend," Hutcheon said.

But she has joined a small corps of volunteers leaving fliers at dry cleaners, coffee shops and office buildings.

Bott said the volunteer response, which includes more than 50 locals, has been overwhelming.

Hutcheon has offered her home to Benedetto and her family when they come to Florida in the coming weeks.

"So many people are hurting and you can't do anything," Hutcheon said. "But in this case I can do something."

Benedetto said she feels helpless from more than 2,000 miles away. But she holds out hope.

So far, there have been no updates in the case, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.

Nimbach always said she'd move back home if her family lived in the same state, Benedetto said. "We're all together now waiting for her."

Jackie Alexander can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or

Fast facts

If you can help

If you have information about Laura Nimbach, call the Sheriff's Office at (727) 582-6333 or Crime Stoppers, toll-free, at 1-800-873-8477.

Donations to help the search for Nimbach can be made at Bank of America branches under the account "Finding Laura Nimbach," care of Amanda T. Bott.

Friends from far away search for missing local woman 06/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 27, 2009 4:30am]
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