Tony Petrocelli, a small town detective in southern California, is interrupted early Saturday morning by a phone call from distraught parents. They’ve discovered their ten-year-old daughter, Ashley Gibson, is missing. They claim she has been abducted, and plead for help.
Tony rousts his talented but flawed partner, Eddy James, from bed and a hangover, to interview Ashley’s parents. At the Gibson home, they join the first responders to the scene. As they try to obtain a complete story, they discover all is not well in what appears, on the surface, to be a pristine home. Tension between father and son threatens to erupt. David Gibson is demanding and rigid and appears to be hiding something in his life. The wife’s behavior seems out of context to the situation. The father, David Gibson, swears the house was locked when they went to bed, but the police find the patio door unlocked with no sign of being forced open. Tony is certain someone in the home unlocked it and is lying. With this apparent falsehood David becomes a suspect and is taken to the police station for questioning. After hours of interrogation he refuses to break or provide any information and the police have to release him.
The case moves to interviewing the neighbors for anything they have noticed in the past few days which aroused their suspicion. During these interviews Tony and Eddy soon uncover other people of interest, including a school teacher with a proclivity to having young girls in his vehicle and Ashley’s soccer coach both of whom have disappeared in their motor homes.
The police track down the whereabouts of all known pedophiles and sexual predators within a fifteen mile radius of the small town, but discover no real leads or suspicious activity. A canvass of school friends in Ashley’s class fails to provide much useful information except to reveal she had a sometimes troubled relationship with her father. Through it all Ashley’s father, David Gibson, continues to act in a highly suspicious manner as the detectives undercover more possible incriminating evidence in his deviant lifestyle.
The media become involved and as a result of nightly television broadcasts over the course of two days a few promising leads develop from the scores of worthless information; a young couple at the beach and a gas station attendant have interesting tales of a mysterious motorhome that matches that of the neighbor who has told people he’s left on a fishing trip.
Reaching an apparent impasse in the case and with no apparent other options Tony and Eddy decide to tread outside the law. They believe the must gain more information on the soccer coach who lives three houses from Ashley. Their illegally obtained evidence, which they claim they found in a city trash receptacle, prompts a warrant for the coach’s home. During the search the officers and CSI team find a cache of incriminating information including kiddie porn and a ten thousand dollar stack of bills.
As more pieces of the mystery come to light, the search for Ashley becomes more desperate. Still they find no sign of the missing girl, despite an Amber Alert.
While they can’t rule out either David Gibson or the neighboring coach as a suspect there isn’t enough evidence to make an arrest. Tony and Eddy can only hope to find the missing coach and his motor home to question him as a person of interest. Interviewing David Gibson’s co-workers leaves the pair of detectives with more questions than answers. On the trip back to their station someone tries to slow the investigation by tossing an explosive device in front of the police cruiser. The attempt to kill or maim them only serves to push the detectives forward with greater urgency.
Alone with her abductor Ashley sees him grab a boning knife and raise it in the air. She closes her eyes and screams before the blade is plunged home.
On day four of the hunt a desert hermit and part-time prospector, Ethan Stiles, wanders into a Sheriff’s station across the state with a wild tale of a sealed up motor home which matches the Amber Alert, surrounded by flies and vultures. When Tony and Eddy arrive at the desert site the smell of death surrounds the scene. They break into the motor home and discover a horrific sight and a surprise.