A partnership between the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield’s directorate of emergency services proved beneficial this past week in helping authorities find an autistic girl who recently wandered away from her home.
In February 2013, the LCSO partnered with the military, making it possible for people living on post to have access to Project Lifesaver.
Project Lifesaver is a program designed to track and rescue people with cognitive conditions who tend to wander, providing a critical service for the families of children and adults with such conditions as traumatic head injuries, Alzheimer’s, autism, Down syndrome or dementia. Clients enrolled in the service wear a wristwatch-sized radio transmitter on their wrists or ankles.
On March 23, the young girl, who was the first recipient of the specialized tracking bracelet as a result of the partnership with Fort Stewart, was quickly located after leaving her home.
Sheriff’s Capt. David Edwards said he was notified about the missing child and left his home at exactly 6:38 p.m.
“And we recovered her by 7 p.m.,” he said adding that the girl was inside the Fort Stewart grounds and not too far from home.
He said the partnership enabled him to quickly notify and coordinate with Fort Stewart’s Military Police.
Edwards said this same young girl had wandered off before and was quickly found at a playground. Thinking the child might have ventured toward the playground again, Edwards started his search for the girl within that area.
“It emits its own signal,” he said, explaining that he activated the antennae and tracking device, which combed the area searching for the young girl’s unique bracelet signal. “I got a ping within that area and I got with MP to close in around that area.”
He said he drove down one road while MPs drove down the other and, within minutes, the girl was found.
“It was raining … and she was just stomping in a mud puddle. Her clothes were soaked,” Edwards said, adding that he was extremely relieved when the young girl simply walked up to him, said hello and hugged him.
Since Project Lifesaver was brought to Liberty County in 2011, this was the second time — albeit with the same person, Edwards said — that he has successfully used the program to find a reported Project Lifesaver client.
The girl’s parent is currently deployed, and her caregiver watches over her and her four siblings.
Sheriff Steve Sikes implemented the program in Liberty County when a friend with an autistic child mentioned her constant struggle to keep up with her child, who does not communicate verbally and can wander off.
Sikes did research and came across information regarding Project Lifesaver in a magazine. Since then, the LCSO has helped numerous police agencies get involved in the project in their own jurisdictions.
For more information on Project Lifesaver, call Edwards at (912) 876-4555.