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Search continues 20 years after 8-year-old Clearwater boy’s disappearance

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Twenty years ago, 8-year-old Zachary Bernhardt disappeared from his room in Clearwater. On Friday, his family and investigators are still working to solve what happened.

The Clearwater Police Department said they received the call just before 5 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2000 to an apartment complex on Drew Street.

“Mom had stepped away from the residence for a while to take care of something, came back and found that her son was missing,” said Lt. Michael Walk.

Since then, police have filled dozens of case binder and have followed up on hundreds of leads.

“That’s very unusual. To be specific, he didn’t even have a working bicycle so to say somebody at 8 years old just gets up and leaves at 4:47 a.m., I think would be outside the norm,” he said.

He said Bernhardt’s disappearance is suspicious in nature, calling it a horrific crime. They want those with any type of information to call them, in hopes someone has the key that could solve the missing persons case.

“Time does hinder the investigation. Evidence does deteriorate but still with scientific measures we have in place today, things are still able to be recovered,” said Walek.

An Amber Alert is still open for Bernhardt today, appearing to be the state’s oldest open Amber Alert.

“It’s something that you can’t explain. It’s a nightmare that just keeps going and going and going, you just and you try to remember to live each moment as if it was your last at the same time,” said Bernhardt’s aunt, Billie-Jo Jimenez.

They’re still looking for him. Bernhardt is 28 years old now.

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“We got a double whammy on 9/11, and it’s hard enough just to get through this day as it is. But living it doubly with double devastation, just don’t forget about our missing kids,” said Jimenez. “Don’t forget about Zachary, just keep looking for him. We never stopped looking for him. Keep his picture out there let him know that we love him, we miss him.”

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center Database, of the more than 87,000 active missing persons records as of the end of 2019, minors made up 35 percent of the records.

So as another year passes, Zachary is still missing and his family wants people to keep looking too.

“I want them to know. And put his picture out there more so that more people can see him. Because the pictures are what’s gonna bring him home,” said his grandmother, Carole Bernhardt.

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