Police investigating the disappearance of a 17-year-old mother 14 years ago are digging up several graves.
Acting on new information about Natalie Putt, who disappeared in 2003, West Midlands Police believes it is “looking at a murder inquiry”.
The force says it also has new leads following the broadcast of her image during Britain’s Got Talent on Friday.
Officers have permission to dig in Ruiton Cemetery in the Upper Gornal area of the Black Country.
Family members said in a statement they were “obviously very upset about the developments and as such would ask that our family is left in peace until such time that we hear of definitive news from the police”.
“In the near 14 years that Natalie has been missing, we have never given up hope of finding her safe and well. Until we know anything to the contrary this remains the case,” they said.
“We her sisters, Becky and Lowri are together, surrounded by pictures of Natalie and have lit candles as a sign of hope.”
Police said while the information prompting the digs predated the broadcast of the ITV talent show, the programme’s timing was “fortuitous”, with information about Ms Putt coming in as a result.
Her image was shown during a performance by a choir made up of the relatives of missing persons.
After the show, Rebecca Coggins wrote on Facebook of Ms Putt, her half sister, “still sad to see you on there but I’m so grateful they featured you tonight”.
Ms Putt left her home in Lower Gornal, Dudley, to go to a shop in September 2003, leaving behind her baby son, then aged 11 weeks.
An 18-year-old man was arrested in March 2004 in connection with her disappearance, but later released without charge.
Since Ms Putt went missing, officers have searched open land close to her home, including underwater searches of rivers and lakes, and farmland in Wombourne, where it is understood she kept horses.
Det Insp Ian Iliffe said: “We have had no positive sightings of Natalie in all these years and there has never been any financial activity connected to her bank accounts or any access to health services across the country, which points to the fact that she is no longer alive.”
He said the force also believed at least two people “know what has led us to this site [the cemetery] and they may have further information which could assist our search”.