'You can't let her become a case number'

CHEHALIS, Wash. - The story out of Cleveland wasn't just an attention-grabbing headline for the dozens of families searching for missing children in Oregon and Washington.

For them it's a reason to hope and believe their sons and daughters will come home.

The family of Kayla Croft-Payne fears she was also kidnapped like the women in Cleveland.

She's been missing for three years. Her family knows many people have forgotten her flier, one in a pile of more than 120 missing children reported in Oregon and Washington, but Kayla's family is hoping what happened in Cleveland reminds everyone it's not too late to hope for Kayla.

The 5-foot-8-inch, 124 pound girl with blue eyes and brown hair has been missing since April 2010.

She's more than a case number to the family who loves her and who won't give up the search.

"She's important. She doesn't need to be forgotten. She needs to come home," said Kayla's aunt, Karen Hinton.

Hinton spent the last three years sorting through hundreds of tips. Just about a year and a half ago, one tip led investigators to a home in Washington where Hinton believes other girls were kidnapped and held against their will.

"One of them was an address in Spokane," she said. "That was just about the time another girl had escaped from Spokane and said other girls were being held there."

But there was no sign of Kayla.

"Two weeks turned into two months and two months turned into two years," Hinton said.

As time passed, the attention faded, and Hinton heard the doubters: "'You're not going to find her or you should just give up hope.'"

Hinton hopes those doubters listen to that 9-1-1 phone call from Amanda Berry, the woman from Cleveland who was missing for 10 years and is now home safe.

"It was heartwarming. It gave us hope that this could be a possibility for Kayla since she's been gone so long," Hinton said.

Hinton says her niece is a fighter just like those women in Ohio, but she needs the public's help.

"You can't let her become a case number with a detective assigned to it," she said. "You have to keep on them. You have to keep letting them know you're not going away so they shouldn't either. You can't let your family member become a cold case. It's the families that keep them searching because it's easier to just forget."

The Lewis County Sheriff's Office is investigating. Just today it said investigators ruled out any connection between a modeling website and Kayla's disappearance.

If you know anything about Kayla, you can call the Lewis County Sheriff's Office at 360-740-1266 or Crime Stoppers of Lewis County.