"WE FOUND HIM...ALIVE!!!"
That's what Leon County Sheriff's Office, Tallahassee, Florida tweeted out at the conclusion of a three-day search for a missing Florida State University student. I was honored to be part of the team that found him dehydrated, naked, disoriented, scratched, and bruised but very much alive.
Around 9:00 in the morning on September 9, 2018, I received a call from a friend and ORS strategic partner, Paul Coley, CEO/Owner of Scent Evidence K9 in Tallahassee. Scent Evidence and ORS have worked together in the past on missing person investigations and close protection assignments. Immediately after I answered the phone, Paul started right in. "Hey, get your gear. LCSO and FSU Police just called. They want our help in finding that missing FSU student."
We had both been following the story since the news started reporting the student missing that past Thursday the 6th. We had been waiting for this call.
Paul is a pioneer in locating missing persons using an Integrated Search Strategy which combines highly trained scent discriminate canines, drones operated by FSU's Emergency Management and Homeland Security Center for Disaster Risk Policy, human scent collection techniques, seasoned investigators and crime scene specialists (that's where ORS comes in) and even a behavioral analyst, another partner of ours, Roger Strecker from Ternion Risk Mitigation Group, as a behavioral specialist and advisor.
By 10:00 am Paul and I were loaded up and on the road. After picking up another canine handler, Will Hall, our first step was to accompany FSU police to the student's room to collect a fresh, uncontaminated, scent article. One challenge in these cases is that by the time we get the call, potential scent articles and the scent trail itself has been contaminated by everyone else who has been there before us – family, friends, police, well-meaning neighbors, etc. However, by meticulously searching for what could be an uncontaminated source, in this case a hairbrush in the bathroom we were certain no one else had touched, and using a specialized Scent Collection Unit, we were able to collect a reliable and uncontaminated scent article. The SCU allows us to collect scent without even touching the scent source, reducing risk of contaminating the sample. After collecting the scent and conducting a brief examination of the room and its contents, such as a notebook left behind with some tell-tale writing on the student’s state of mind, as well as some brief questions for our student's roommates, we headed to the joint command post east of Tallahassee. I was working the phone on the way, reaching out to Roger Strecker some of our other experts to discuss what we learned at the student's room.
Once at command post we met up with FSU EMHS/CDRP, who had already started the drone overflights and mapping. Soon, we were tracking our missing student with FSUEMHS/CDRP flying overwatch above.
Less than four hours later, while running a fresh scent trail, the dog's head snapped to her right. We then heard a shout from the woods to our right. Several yards into the woods a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officer on an ATV, officers from LCSO and FSU Police, and Paul's fellow canine handler, Will, found our missing student. Seeing our student riding out of those woods on the back of that ATV brought a feeling that is indescribable. The only other thing that came close was the thanks from the student's mother and sister.
It was a good day. By combining the latest in human scent collection techniques, highly trained canines, traditional investigative tools and techniques, and drones in the air - all part of an Integrated Search Strategy - along with a team of dedicated and selfless law enforcement officers, a missing person was found safe. And alive.
If you would like more information on Integrated Search Strategies and efforts to locate the missing, call us at (850) 629-9677 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.