LAGUNA NIGUEL  ( — The search is on for a missing doll. It’s not just any doll, but a very special doll that helps a little girl stay connected to her military dad, who’s deployed overseas.

KCAL9’s Laurie Perez spoke Sunday night with the girl’s mom, who says this about much more than a lost toy.

Each time 18-month-old Ella Reynolds hug her “Daddy Doll,” the customized toy that bears her father’s image, she hears this message recorded by Marine Gunnery Sgt. Donald Reynolds: “Hi, Ella. It’s Daddy. I love you. I can’t wait to see you.”

Ella’s dad is on his eighth deployment, this time in Japan. As you might imagine, his message gets a lot of play every day.

“I would be sitting out in the living room and I would hear her squeezing the doll over and over and over like 20 times until she fell asleep,” said Ella’s mom, Dan’yell Reynolds of Laguna Niguel.

Ella is missing her dad and her doll because she lost it Tuesday at the Mission Viejo mall. Her mom said since then Ella has been waking up and searching for it in her crib.

On Sunday night, via Skype, her father seemed about as broken up about it as Ella.

“She’s had that doll ever since she was born and I spend a lot of time away, so I kind of rely on that doll and FaceTime and recorded stories and stuff like that to kind of continue to remind her who her dad is and her dad loves her,” he said.

And that’s why Ella’s mom is desperate to find the “father figure.” She’s scoured the mall to no avail, but said a Facebook post about the doll has been shared more than 10,000 times, and she’s had offers for everything from replacing the toy to organizing a search, Perez reported.

“It just has sentimental value,” Dan’yell Reynolds said.