JESSIEVILLE -- In Arabic, "Amir" originally signified the "commander of the army," a word that has taken on a new meaning locally, as hundreds of people have now joined "Amir's Army," uniting with Jessica Ellis in the search for her son, Amir Ellis, who has been missing since late May.
The foot soldiers in "Amir's Army" now find themselves locked in a battle against time, as hunting season approaches in the Ouachita National Forest. And, with each passing week, the possibility grows that the elements, animals and other factors can affect the search for evidence of his whereabouts.
"Our babies were little together," Mystica Carter, a friend of the Ellis family, said Saturday.
Carter, who has helped in the search efforts since the beginning, became friends with Jessica Ellis after the two were neighbors then co-workers.
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Carter said the group started searching the Jessieville area because of word-of-mouth tips, but as "court revelations" came out the group got a more specific area to search.
Although the numbers fluctuate, Jessica Ellis says she is certain that interest won't fade. She plans to conduct weekly searches until she finds her son, no matter how long it takes.
Though attendance this week was down to 45 from last week's record of roughly 100 volunteers, she said the momentum is still growing. Authorities such as Hot Springs police Detective Brian Branstetter, other HSPD officers, members of the Garland County Sheriff's Office and the Quapaw Nation Emergency Management K9 Search Team from Oklahoma were absent from this week's effort, but Ellis says there will be more to come.
According to her, there will likely be a cadaver K9 search team present next week as she was told such a search would have to wait for cooler weather.
With temperatures in the high 70s for most of the morning Saturday, Ellis said it should be cool enough going forward.
But with or without help from local agencies, Ellis has gathered forces from around the country, determined to seek for as long as they can.
"We're trying to see if we can find him and everything, proper burial and everything," said Noah, from New York, who declined to give his last name.
Noah came with his mother, Tiffany, who has family in the area. They say they'll likely participate for the next four weeks.
Unlike last Saturday, the volunteers were split into two groups at base camp, Jessieville Fellowship Center, 7415 Highway 7 north. Group A traveled to a location close to last week's search on Gladstone Forest Road while Group B stayed inside Garland County, pulling into a property with an open gate just off of the highway in the 9000 block.
A corn feeder in the clearing where Group B fanned out served as a reminder that bow season is just weeks away.
As temperatures lower and interest continues to rise, the hunt for Amir Ellis seems like it will continue for a while longer. But as fall turns into winter, the monumental task of scouring the Jessieville area and the surrounding national forest will become more difficult. With every week that passes, the woods change. Animals scatter bones, clothes deteriorate and signs of a crime fade, searchers acknowledge.
But Jessica Ellis persists that she won't stop until she has answers and she finds her son, so he can rest. And for now, she has an army every week to help her in her quest -- Amir's Army. Some who say they'll continue looking with her for as long as it takes.
"With the enthusiasm and the heart, it's changed each time," Carter said. "It may come in bouts, but any help is appreciated and I'm going to keep on searching with her for as long as she wants to."