Sanford police call off search for missing family, say they're safe

·5 min read

Sep. 9—Sanford police on Friday called off the highly publicized search for two missing adults and their child.

Jill Sidebotham, Nicholas Hansen and 2-year-old Lydia Hansen are "unharmed and safe and no evidence of criminal behavior has been observed," police said in a statement Friday morning, ending two months of investigating.

But police did not say why the trio left town in June or where they are — and relatives still haven't heard from them directly.

"At the involved parties' request, no information as to their location or motive for departing the Springvale area will be disclosed," the police said.

Sidebotham and Hansen left for a camping trip in late June. Sidebotham's family expected her back in Sanford by June 30. She had plans the following weekend with her 10-year-old son, who lives with his father.

Her father, Ron Sidebotham, said Friday he's grateful to hear from police that they're safe. But he still hasn't talked with his daughter.

He told the Portland Press Herald in July that Lydia would be turning 3 years old this month. Now, he hopes he can connect with his daughter and granddaughter before then.

"It's good news," Sidebotham said. "I just want her back in our lives."

Police first announced their search for Sidebotham and Hansen in early July, after receiving worried calls from Sidebotham's family. At the time, officers said it was possible that Sidebotham and Hansen were camping near the town of Phillips in Franklin County, where Hansen is from. The trio was later spotted in the Walmart in Mexico on July 2.

This was a unique situation for police, said Lt. Matthew Gagné. It wasn't clear there was a crime — and the scope of the search went far beyond Sanford.

They had no reason to believe anyone was in danger, but it was unusual for two adults to go that long without contacting family, Gagné said.

Sanford police received aid from federal law enforcement and other police departments.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children paid for and executed a robust campaign to help find Lydia, which helped generate more than a dozen tips a day.

When that number began to drop off, Gagné said, the department generated new interest through the nationally syndicated TV show, "In Pursuit with John Walsh."

The Maine Warden Service flew three aerial searchers over the Mexico area. But all that searching led nowhere, Gagné said Friday.

Gagné couldn't say how much the search effort had cost. Most of the messaging and campaigning was covered by others, he said, and the state paid for aerial searches. He did not know how many hours of labor had gone into the effort.

After police announced that Sidebotham and Hansen had been found, the department's Facebook page was flooded with public comments demanding that the pair repay those costs.

"By continuing with the investigation, we were able to determine they were safe and give closure to the family," Gagné said. "Had we not put in the time and resources and it was determined there was a crime or any of them were hurt, the family and the public would be asking why we didn't do more to locate them."

When Sidebotham left town, she was engaged to another man, Corey Alexander, who said in July that the couple had begun moving into an apartment together.

Reached Friday, Alexander said he still sees "a lot of red flags" and he's not reassured of Sidebotham's safety. Like her family, he also hasn't heard from her since she reached out a few days after she left to say she loved him and was eager to come home.

"The fact that she hasn't actually contacted anyone herself and spoken on this herself is extremely alarming to me," Alexander said.

Court records show that Sidebotham and Hansen had a troubled history.

Hansen was charged with, but never convicted of, misdemeanor domestic violence assault in November 2019. The complaint named Sidebotham as the victim.

In April 2021, Sidebotham filed a complaint for protection. Sidebotham told the court Hansen had shown up at her home with a hammer, intent on hurting her current boyfriend in front of her daughter.

In June 2021, a judge issued a protection order that allowed Hansen to visit Lydia under supervision and to text and email Sidebotham about their daughter while he received counseling for behavioral health and substance use.

That order expired in June.

When the three went missing, their families told the Press Herald they were worried.

Hansen's family said he had a traumatic childhood, shuttling between divorced parents.

Hansen has two other children from a former marriage. His sister told the Press Herald in July that she was trying to adopt those children.

Gagné said Friday that he understood the lingering concerns.

"I know there are going to be people who think not enough was done, or people who are suspicious," he said. "We've done everything that we can to ensure she's OK — talking with her and making sure this was an intentional thing, them leaving."

Sanford police made contact with the missing trio after WGME-TV reported an email from a man saying he was Nick Hansen. Police arranged for a phone call, then a video call, then an in-person visit from a law enforcement agency where the three are located to be sure they were OK.

"It appeared that they weren't aware until about a week or so ago and were surprised at the effort that had gone into finding them," Gagné said.