A body has been found in the search for missing teenager Gaia Pope, police said on Saturday.
Dorset Police said they are “confident” the body is that of the 19-year-old, who has not been seen for 11 days.
The body was found near Swanage at about 3pm on Saturday by specialist search teams near the coastal path and the field where items of Gaia’s clothing were located on Thursday.
Gaia’s sister has described the teenager as “the absolute light of my life” following Saturday’s discovery.
Clara Pope said her sister was “so beautiful, so emotionally wise and intelligent and so passionate and artistic and creative and understanding”.
Hundreds of volunteers have been helping in the search effort in a bid to find the teenager.
Detective Superintendent Paul Kessell, of Dorset Police’s major crime investigation team, released the following statement:
“Although the body has yet to be formally identified, we are confident that we have found Gaia.
“Her family have been informed and are being supported by specially-trained officers. Our thoughts remain with all of her family and friends at this very traumatic time. They have requested privacy and that we make no further media releases at this point.
“The coroner has been notified and further forensic examination will continue. This will guide the investigation in respect of the circumstances of the death which at this time remains unexplained.
“I would like to thank the community for their support and understanding while this large-scale investigation continues and their efforts in looking for Gaia.
“We have received a huge amount of support from the public who have contacted us with possible sightings of Gaia and items of found clothing. I can confirm that we have recovered all the clothing we believe Gaia was wearing when she disappeared and, with thanks, we no longer require the public to assist with searches.”
Fighting back tears, Gaia’s sister told ITV News: “I just want to tell everybody that every minute of your hard work has been absolutely worth it.
“She is – I’m not going to say was and never will – the absolute light of my life. So beautiful, so emotionally wise and intelligent and so passionate and artistic and creative and understanding.
“And I will always, always, always be one of three. Always one of three. And I just want to thank everybody.
“Everyone. Every hug, every message has been, you know – one of three, that’s all I have to say.”
Her cousin, Marienna Pope-Weidemann, also told ITV News: “We want to thank each and every one of you for everything you’ve done.
“If there is one ray of light in this nightmare it is the compassion, humanity and community spirit that you’ve shown over the last 10 days.
“Your dedication and selflessness for a girl that many of you don’t even know has been staggering and one of the few things that kept us going.
“This afternoon the emergency services found Gaia’s body. We are absolutely devastated and unable to put those feelings of loss into words.
“We thank you for everything you have done. Our little bird has flown but will always be with us.
“The police will be releasing a statement momentarily. Please respect the family’s privacy at this devastating time and keep us in your prayers. Thank you.”
The discovery of the body comes hours after Gaia’s father Richard Sutherland thanked hundreds of volunteers who were searching for the missing teenager on Saturday afternoon.
The mass searches were organised by the Find Gaia group on Facebook and saw volunteers gather at the country park, near the main beach and to the north of the town looking for the teenager, who suffers from severe epilepsy.
Since she disappeared hundreds of missing person posters were distributed across the county.
On Friday, Gaia’s mother, Natasha, said she had not given up hope her daughter will be found alive – saying “I believe miracles can happen”.
Earlier, the teenager’s father said that he feared his daughter’s epilepsy may have played a part in her disappearance as she had been warned by doctors she was at risk of sudden death from the condition.
Gaia had not been seen since about 4pm on November 7 in Manor Gardens, Swanage.
An hour earlier she was captured on CCTV buying an ice cream inside St Michael’s Garage in the town, having been driven there by a relative.
She was said to be wearing a red checked shirt with white buttons, grey and white woven leggings and white trainers. The black jacket she had on was recovered from an address in Manor Gardens.
Two men aged 19 and 49 and a 71-year-old woman, all from Swanage and known to Gaia, were arrested on suspicion of murder earlier this week and have been released under investigation while enquiries continue.