By Colby Gable
After completing a two-hour search on October 5th, Watauga Sheriff’s Office was able to locate an 18-month-old toddler who had been missing for several hours and had wandered over 600 yards from her house. Search teams from across the High Country were dispatched including: the Watauga Sheriff’s Office, Watauga County Emergency Management, Boone Fire, Blowing Rock Fire, Foscoe Fire, Watauga Medics, and Watauga Rescue. Each were sent out by Boone’s Emergency Management team, which helped to coordinate communications between search crews across counties and are responsible for the mapping and management of these emergencies. The two who found the child were Deputy Garrett Norris and Sergeant Chris Bowen both with the Sheriff’s Office. Deputy Norris, who is also a paramedic, initiated active warming to further prevent hypothermia prior to handing the child over to Watauga Medics for evaluation.
Emergency Management Office’s Taylor Marsh went on to say, “A lot of people think of us as just being fire officers, but we do a lot more, and missing person reports are just an example of the sort of situation we’re trained for.” As for actually coordinating a search through multiple police units, Marsh also mentioned, “Every county has an Emergency Management office, but we all know each other pretty well so we can rely on each other to help get the job done.”
Kelly Redmon of the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office talked a little about how police and investigators go about thinking and reacting to a missing person report, “We actually get a lot of missing persons reports, and the first thing we usually do is dispatch officers to the scene to determine information and decide where to go from there.”
Major Redmon also mentioned that separate factors such as weather, time of day, and other factors about the missing person are all aspects put under consideration when thinking about how to start finding a missing person or even formulate a search pattern. He went on to say, “In the search and rescue world, we assess the missing person, whether they are suicidal or not, or simply not answering the phone or line off communication being used to contact them. With a child, that ramps up and ranks higher on the immediacy of response.” Redmon also points to advances in technology such as drones which “can cover lots of area in a short time,” as being another helpful aspect which Emergency Response Teams utilize in these sort of search efforts.
Eventually, it was determined by officers that, “We are under the impression a basement door was left open and she simply had followed dogs outside and wandered off with them. It is actually somewhat of a common cause and we’ve certainly seen that before,” said Marsh. “Luckily she was returned safe and was missing simply due to wandering off.”