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Michelle Parker Missing: Authorities search lake; children returned to father

11:42 AM, Dec 1, 2011   |    comments
Michelle Parker (personal photo)
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ORLANDO, Florida (WKMG) -- Authorities on Thursday are again searching in and around Lake Ellenor in south Orlando for a missing woman, a day after a judge decided to return custody of her children to their father, the only suspect in her disappearance.

Photo Gallery: Pictures of Michelle Parker

On Wednesday, more than 30 people from the Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff's Office searched the area near Lancaster Road and Orange Blossom Trail, not far from where the last ping on Michelle Parker's phone was registered.

Parker, 33, disappeared Nov. 17 after dropping off her 3-year-olds twins with their father, Dale Smith. The same day, an episode of "The People's Court" aired nationwide featuring the couple in a dispute over a $5,000 engagement ring.

Dive teams and search crews on boats searched the lake while cadaver dogs helped search around the lake. The search area is less than two miles from Smith's father's house, as well as where Smith works.

"It breaks my heart to think that somebody would throw my daughter's body in a lake," Yvonne Stewart said.

On a Facebook page, Parker's family said T-shirts -- referred to as "walking billboards" -- are being sold for $10 at the command center at Oak Ridge Road and Orange Avenue.  Organizers hope the shirts will prompt someone to come forward with information about Parker.

Police have not said what prompted the new search.

The Police Department officially named Smith, 40, as a suspect in Parker's disappearance on Monday.

On Tuesday, the Department of Children and Families took custody of the couple's boy and girl twins from Smith, but a judge dismissed DCF's petition to place the children in protective custody and returned the toddlers to Smith.

The judge said there is not probable cause sufficient enough for him to sign the petition and Smith is not an imminent risk to the children.

The judge said that if the children had witnessed anything regarding the disappearance of their mother, they would have said something when they were interviewed by investigators on Tuesday.

After the hearing, Parker's mother, Yvonne Stewart, shared a brief embrace with Smith. She said it was for the sake of her grandchildren because she will need Smith's permission to see them now that he has regained custody.

Smith recently retained prominent Orlando attorney Mark NeJame, who has previously represented the Anthony family and Tiger Woods. Parker's family is represented by Matt Morgan of Morgan and Morgan.

During the hearing, NeJame cited that there is no history of abuse.

Parker also has an 11-year-old boy.

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