Sheriff’s office joins program to find missing kids, seniors

Aug. 27, 2013 @ 01:33 PM

When Shatockia Pervis-McKinney’s 5-year-old autistic son wandered away from a friend’s house in May, a cold chill ran through her body.

The boy went missing for half an hour – some of the longest minutes of her life.
A search party was formed, and he was found crying hysterically about one-quarter mile away after crossing a busy street.
But a program that the Durham County Sheriff’s Office has joined promises to find lost children like Nicholas and others in the future.
Project Lifesaver aims to locate an adult or child with a cognitive impairment such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease or Down syndrome when they wander away from a caregiver.
Those enrolled in the program wear a battery-powered transmitter about the size of a wristwatch on their wrist or ankle. The signal, which can be located from up to a mile away in normal conditions, is tracked using a vehicle-mounted or handheld receiver that sheriff’s deputies are trained to use.
The result is that someone who is lost can be found much faster.
“A search effort for an endangered missing person can take dozens of emergency personnel, many hours, and create much stress for the missing person’s family members,” Durham County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Sherwin, who is administering the program in Durham, said. “By joining Project Lifesaver, the Sheriff’s Office aims to change that.”
Sherwin said the Sheriff’s Office partnered last year with the Durham County chapter of Autism Society of North Carolina to begin the process of becoming a member of Project Lifesaver, founded in 1999 in Chesapeake, Va. The Durham chapter raised more than $4,000 to pay for equipment and training to launch the program.
Seven Durham deputies received four days of training in May, and are now qualified to operate the search equipment and conduct searches for those in the program.
The Sheriff’s Office will provide Project Lifesaver services at no cost to Durham County residents, and is buying a dozen transmitters to get the program started soon.
Pervis-McKinney is on the waiting list. She said she’ll have peace of mind knowing that her son is wearing the transmitter.
“I hear stories daily of people wandering away and getting hurt,” she said. “I don’t want that to happen to my child or anybody else.”
Another person who plans to sign up for the program is Durham resident Becky Swanger, whose 79-year-old husband, Terry Swanger, has Alzheimer’s disease.
One night, he wandered away from their home in the Willowhaven area. Deputies searched for him from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., and found him on Inverness Drive, not far from home.
“The deputies were relentless [in searching],” she said. “I’m going to tell you: They are very, very special people.”
Swanger said she tries to keep an eye on her husband, but he sometimes wanders away.
“You’d think you can watch them every minute, but you cannot,” she said.
She looks forward to being part of Project Lifesaver.
“I’m excited about this program,” she said. “It will really ease my mind, because there will be an easier way to find him, instead of the whole family and neighborhood taking off and looking everywhere.”

For information, call Deputy Paul Sherwin at 919-560-0871, or email at pmsherwin@durhamsheriff.org To find out how to donate, visit www.projectlifesaver.org