Missing Woman Has Been Found

Published 4:38 pm Thursday, January 6, 2011

BUCKINGHAM – A 60-year old woman who wandered away from her residence on Tuesday afternoon is back home.

Her disappearance launched an intensive search by approximately 70 people who combed the area near her home throughout the evening and overnight as temperatures dipped into the low 20's.

According to Sheriff William G. Kidd, Jr., neighbors on Shelton Store Road spotted the woman in their yard on Wednesday morning around 9:50 a.m. He said she was approximately 350 yards-through the woods-from her home.

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Kidd, who was returning to the command post when he received the news, was almost in front of the residence where she was located. As he pulled into the drive, trackers, who had picked-up the woman's footprints, were simultaneously emerging from the wooded area behind the house.

When Kidd entered the residence, the shivering woman was wrapped in blankets and sitting in front of a gas-log fireplace.

“The rescue squad checked her out. They said she was doing all right,” stated Kidd, adding that the woman was sipping hot cocoa and warm soup.

The Search

Kidd said his office received the call at 2:46 p.m. on Tuesday. Explaining that the woman has wandered from her home in the past, the sheriff said one of the deputies who responded to the call was familiar with the woman's history and tried to find some footprints.

“He went a good ways but couldn't locate her,” said Kidd, describing the area as wooded with oaks leading into a big stand of pines.

The woman was wearing green pants and a green, white, and black shirt, which Kidd said might have deterred her detection in the pine forest.

Within the hour, a ground-disturbance dog and handler from the Fluvanna Sheriff's Office were on the scene but were unsuccessful in locating the woman.

A countywide call went out to all fire departments and rescue squads. The response, said Kidd, was immediate and overwhelming.

Piedmont Search and Rescue, which utilizes air-scent dogs, and “man-trackers,” searchers trained in following footprints, joined the effort.

Virginia State Police from the area as well as VSP units from other areas assisted with the search, said Kidd, adding that a VSP canine unit from Staunton also responded.

With help from members of Union Grove Baptist Church, the church quickly became a command post. “They stayed for awhile and then checked on us periodically to see if we needed anything,” said Kidd.

Teams made grid searches well past midnight, explained Kidd. He added that several groups of area residents approached him about working independently in areas not covered by law enforcement and the organized search teams.

A Virginia State Police helicopter, equipped with FLIR, a forward-looking infrared system capable of detecting body heat, joined the search around dusk.

The Auxiliary of the Toga Volunteer Fire Department supplied food and drinks for the searchers. On Wednesday morning, Food Lion and McDonalds provided donuts and breakfast items.

“Everybody pulled together and I am really proud of them,” stated Kidd.

Leaving the command post during the early morning hours for a quick trip home to get ready for a scheduled meeting in Farmville, Kidd said that the darkness and freezing temperatures left him with a sinking feeling. Knowing they were doing all they could physically do, he shared, “I said a little prayer.”

Kidd later decided to skip the meeting and headed back to the command post. On his way, he heard the news that the woman had been located and appeared to be in good condition.

Accolades Flow

“Thanks to everyone for their interest and help,” said Kidd, grateful to all those who helped with the search.

Expressing his appreciation to his officers, Kidd stated, “They all put in extra time to try to see this through. I had to send some of them home because they had been out there so long.”

The sheriff added that BSO Captain John Dixon stayed at the scene the entire time. Likewise, the county's E-911 coordinator, Kevin Flippen worked throughout the night.

Kidd also praised Sergeant Scott Folsom, one of the first officers on the scene. He stayed with the family throughout their ordeal and kept them informed on the search effort.

Buckingham's information technology manager Jamie Shumaker also played a vital role during the search by disseminating information to the public, explained Kidd.

Within an hour after the call came in to the dispatch center, Shumaker enacted the automated calling system to alert nearby residents of the missing person, providing them with a description and contact information.

Later in the evening, Shumaker broadened the calling area for similar alerts. Then, when the woman was located, the system delivered the good news.

Kidd told The Herald that he would be reviving Project Lifesaver, a monitoring program implemented years ago by the sheriff's office. The system utilizes a wristband transmitter placed on an individual who is a wanderer.

“We are going to get her a bracelet,” assured Kidd.

After reiterating his appreciation to everyone involved in the search effort, Kidd offered, “Thank God for happy endings.”