LUDINGTON (WWJ/AP) – Dozens of people with knowledge of botany turned out Friday in western Michigan as police searched for the remains of a missing baby.

Investigators have said seeds and other natural material found on the shoes of Katherine Phillips’ father could be crucial to the location of the body, 80 miles northwest of Grand Rapids. The 4 1/2-month-old Katherine disappeared two years ago this weekend.

The case is being treated as a homicide. Sean Phillips is serving a 10 to 15 year prison sentences after he was convicted last year of secret confinement of his daughter, the only charge filed so far. Authorities accused him of taking her from her mother.

More than 100 people showed up at a school auditorium in Ludington, 80 of them with botany expertise.

“I volunteered because I want to have closure for the families in the area,” Jeff Mount, an area school superintendent with a biology degree, told the Ludington Daily News.

The search will last two days and include experts from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and the Chicago Field Museum.

“I have been interested in the case since day one and botany is one of my favorite hobbies. Put the two together and here I am,” local writer Joan Young said.

Officials said the June 28-29 period was chosen because it’s the same timeframe Katherine disappeared in 2011 and similar plant material will be present.

Katherine lived with her mother, Ariel Courtland, in Ludington, about 80 miles northwest of Grand Rapids.

According to Courtland, Phillips told her that Katherine is still alive – but extensive searches haven’t turned up the girl. Police did, however, find her clothing in Phillips’ shorts pocket.

In September, Courtland filed papers in an effort to marry Phillips so she could visit him to seek answers about their child’s disappearance.

Anyone with information about what happened to Katherine is asked to contact Mason-Oceana 911 at 231-869-5858.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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