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Police find missing woman in five minutes

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By Carol A. Clark

A 77-year-old local Alzheimer’s patient was returned to her husband after Los Alamos Police detectives found her unharmed Tuesday morning. The woman wandered away from her husband at about 10 a.m. in downtown Los Alamos.“The woman’s husband called and said he was inside a business near 15th and Central Avenue when he looked around and discovered his wife was missing,” said Det. Shari Mills. Mills is the police department’s coordinator for Project Lifesaver, a tracking program the detectives used to find the patient.LAPD detectives trained on Project Lifesaver several months ago. They learned not only search and rescue techniques and how to operate the electronic tracking equipment, but also the methods necessary to communicate with a person who has Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders. Locating the individual is only part of the mission, they said. The person who is located can be disoriented, anxious and distrusting. The detectives are trained in how to approach the person, gaining trust and putting her or him at ease for the trip home.“It all fell together really nicely,” Mills said. “We had our equipment ready to go and we went out in our parking lot and with our antenna we got a signal right away.”Det. Ron Binion used the antenna to track the woman who was wearing a Project Lifesaver monitoring bracelet embedded with a transmitting device, which her husband obtained for her from LAPD months ago.Mills and Det. Doug Johnson joined Binion on Tuesday’s search, getting a stronger signal as they approached the Mesa Public Library parking lot. “We continued on and located the missing woman inside the Betty Ehart Senior Center within five minutes of getting the call from her husband,” Binion said. “It worked out better than we could have expected. That instrument (antenna) is amazing, we’re fortunate to have that tool to help us out. The training we took on this tracking system really does what it promises.”Project Lifesaver has surpassed the 1,100th rescue milestone nationwide since developed some six years ago, according to its website.“For our first search it was especially exciting to find her so fast,” Mills said.As they walked up to the senior center with their tracking equipment, the detectives noticed the puzzled reactions from people around them. They hope to conduct an educational seminar at the center to familiarize people with the equipment and let them know that the monitoring is available so they can help spread the word throughout the community, she said.Sgt. Jason Daugherty of the Lea County Sheriff’s Department was part of the team that trained local detectives. Daugherty said at the time that the national average to find a person under the program is 22 minutes. The program is so effective, he said, that searches that formerly required 50-200 people searching for two to three days  – and sometimes not finding the person at all – are down to two to three people searching for 22 minutes, with 100-percent success since the program’s inception in Virginia in 2002.LAPD initiated its Project Lifesaver program under a special grant, which Mills said allows it to provide its current supply of bracelets to community members in need at no charge.For information, call detectives at 662-8274 or access, www.projectlifesaver.org.