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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Laurie Jernigan (center), mother of missing teen Ebby Steppach, wipes tears while announcing a $50,000 reward for information about her daughter’s disappearance during a news conference at the Little Rock Police Department in June 2017. With her are Melissa Holman (left) and Tonya Crandall. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

LITTLE ROCK — The lead investigator in the high-profile disappearance of Natalee Holloway in 2005 has joined the search for a Little Rock teenager missing for nearly two years.

Investigator TJ Ward is hoping to shed some light on the disappearance of 18-year-old Ebby Steppach, who was reported missing Oct. 24, 2015. Ward flew to Little Rock to look into the case after receiving a phone call from Steppach's mother, Laurie Jernigan.

Jernigan said she remains hopeful despite running into multiple dead ends in the case.

Ward said while it's too early to speculate what happened, he has agreed to take on the case full-time.

Ward investigated after Holloway went missing in 2005 after leaving a bar in Aruba. The 18-year-old Alabama woman was on a high school graduation trip at the time. Her disappearance remains unsolved.

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  • hogfan2012
    October 11, 2017 at 4:57 p.m.

    Unfortunately, if they find this young lady - they will probably find Cassie Compton from Stuttgart and a few other blonde late teens that went missing about the same time. Praying for closure for all of these families.

  • gagewatcher
    October 11, 2017 at 5:12 p.m.

    does this investigator have better luck with other cases since he failed with the Holloway girl?

  • PopMom
    October 11, 2017 at 5:42 p.m.

    Ruby,

    The perpetrator was identified. Perhaps, he took part in that.

  • NoUserName
    October 11, 2017 at 6:04 p.m.

    Possible perpetrator. I agree that van der Sloot probably did it. But there is little actual evidence linking him as far as I'm aware. Yes, I'm aware of the 'confession.' As to the investigator, I looked it up. He was the guy who Holloway's father hired and is at least partially responsible for the recent updates in the case.

  • TRUTH1
    October 12, 2017 at 7:48 p.m.

    JERNIGAN FAMILY, PLEASE:
    BEWARE of T. J. WARD - the 'private investigator' involved. In our experience, he is HEINOUSLY DISHONEST, UNQUALIFIED, VERY SELF-SERVING and in ALL he does is ONLY "in it for the money". We pray for the Holloway family however it is VERY clear what has occurred - NBCUniversal/Oxygen Network allowed 'entertainment' programming that is HIGHLY suspect in its' overall content & allowed an avenue for T.J. WARD to utilize to further advertise himself and entice more UNSUSPECTING 'clients'. Mr. Holloway, PLEASE stop accommodating/facilitating T.J. WARD.
    ***ALL, to reiterate, be advised that this is the MAIN vehicle that T.J. WARD uses to entice new, UNSUSPECTING 'clientel'. He uses the 'Holloway Tragedy' predominantly to advertise his 'services'. It is VERY clear that T.J. WARD'S 'investigation' of THIS matter has ALSO provided NO ANSWERS, NOTHING CONCLUSIVE OR VIABLE.
    ***AS SO MANY HAVE COMMENTED, THIS 'CURRENT INFORMATION' RE: NATALEE COULD HAVE QUICKLY & IMMEDIATELY BEEN DISQUALIFIED WITHOUT A MONEY-MAKING PROCESS BEING THE MAIN FOCUS.
    ***In our opinion, & having first-hand knowledge of T.J. WARD, this was another purposeful & VERY disturbing orchestration!

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