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Service planned for missing woman; search continues

Michelle Theriault Boots

The family of Valerie Sifsof, the Anchorage woman who went missing at a campground on the Kenai Peninsula in July, is holding a service for her at a Russian Orthodox church Saturday. There will be a video memorial to her, made by her brothers, and a potluck.

But that doesn't mean the search for the missing 43-year-old is over, her father Victor Sifsof said.

The family wants to honor Valerie and the dozens of volunteers -- both family friends and strangers -- who have now been looking for her for three seasons.

The 10 a.m. service at the St. Innocent Cathedral at 401 Turpin St. in Anchorage will be followed by a potluck at the Southcentral Foundation, 4501 Diplomacy Drive.

Sifsof was last seen walking away from a campsite at the Granite Creek Campground, around Mile 64 of the Seward Highway, around midnight on July 7 after a fight with her boyfriend. Troopers searched for 10 days but stopped after they turned up nothing. Family members recruited volunteers using posters and a website, valeriesifsof.com, and have continued to scour the campground and the nearby, fast-moving Granite Creek.

Searchers battled a rainy summer, a rainy fall and a sudden and harsh freeze-up, Sifsof said. All signs continue to point toward the creek, which is littered with fallen trees and logjams from a stormy autumn.

"We're almost sure she was in that water," he said.

In October, the dark DKNY hooded sweatshirt Valerie had last been seen wearing turned up in a logjam about a half-mile downstream from the campground. A green shirt believed to belong to Sifsof was also found in the same area earlier in the year, troopers said.

A few weeks after the sweatshirt discovery, the family decided to suspend searching for the winter because conditions at the campground were becoming dangerous, Victor Sifsof said.

"The weather came in and the creek started freezing over," he said. "We still tried as long as we possibly could. It just got to a point where my concern is that someone is going to get hurt or someone is going to fall in."

The family has been moved by contributions from longtime friends and strangers alike.

Sifsof's niece, Olympic snowboarder Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, wrote on her blog about volunteers who've made the trek to the isolated campground since July.

They include a group of soldiers with the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson-based 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, members of which spent some of their first days back from deployment in Afghanistan helping break up logjams and walk riverbanks.

"From 120 degree desert heat to the freezing Alaska backcountry," Chythlook-Sifsof wrote on the blog. "What a generous, selfless and compassionate gesture by these men."

Others have driven 65 miles each way to deliver hot meals, according to the Sifsof family. Organizations have provided rafting experts and trained search-and-rescue dogs. A small group even came down from Fairbanks to help in the search.

"They were good woodsmen," Victor Sifsof said. "At least six or seven days on and off they came."

Closure won't come until the family knows for sure what happened to Valerie Sifsof, her father said.

He plans to make the drive down to the campground every week during the winter to keep an eye on ice conditions. A new waterproof camera will be able to get underneath logjams and send back real-time images from underwater. Rafters are already committed to running the creek again in springtime.

"We'll look on and on until we find her," he said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com