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Local volunteer group provides security for area events

Monday, July 23, 2007

(Photo)
Members of the Clay County Sheriff's Posse will patrol the fairgrounds to help ensure the safety of visitors during the Clay County 4-H Fair. On patrol Sunday were Richards Bowers, search and rescue/security horse back rider, and President Victoria Hill.
In the past, a posse was formed to help round up the "bad guys." In these enlightened times, when justice isn't as swift, and suspects are innocent until proven guilty, does this area need a posse?

The answer in Clay County is yes.

The Sheriff's Posse was formed as a volunteer extension of the sheriff's department reserves in February 2005, and began operations in January 2006. The group meets every third Tuesday each month at 7 p.m. at the Clay County Justice Center.

The Posse currently has 22 members on its roster. Victoria Hill is the current president.

They provide services such as security at events in the area, for example, the Brazil Rotary Fourth of July Carnival and the Clay County 4-H Fair. They've also assisted with search and rescue efforts in the area.

"We pretty much go where we're needed," Hill said. "We never know where we'll end up, only that we'll be helping."

The Posse is well trained, taking NIMS (National Incident Mandate Systems) training under Homeland Security.

The group has assisted in locating missing persons in Clay County. If someone is reported missing, the Sheriff's Posse will be there to help in the search.

Whether they are riding horses through some tough terrain or going door-to-door, these professionals do all they can to help reunite families with missing loved ones.

Recently, their skills were put to the test.

On Thursday July 12, the Sheriff's Department received a 911 call at approximately 10:20 p.m. regarding a screaming child in the vicinity of Harmony Park. The caller said the child was heard begging their parents not to leave without them. The caller was distraught and said they could still hear the child screaming every few seconds.

Officers were dispatched to the park where they searched the open area.

There were no signs of the missing child so more officers, several fire departments, search and rescue, local responders and the Sheriff's Posse were called in to help with the search.

Approximately after three hours with more than 100 volunteers looking, no child was found and the search was called off.

A storm was entering the area, and all departments were sent home. The park was clear by 1:30 a.m., except for members of the Sheriff's Posse who weren't willing to walk away if there was even the slightest chance a small child was still missing.

"It was hard to sleep, just thinking that maybe we missed something in the search," Posse member Ed Hastings said. "We just knew that our job wasn't done."

The Posse left, but were back Friday morning to resume the search "just in case." At noon, they concluded the search, and said they hoped, if the call was true, that the parents had returned before officers arrived to get their child.

"A hoax-call that uses this many resources, manpower and equipment, is a lot easier to stomach than the thought of a parent leaving a small child out here in the dark," Hill said. "I just truly hope that there isn't a small child out here, scared, alone, hungry and cold."

Posse members have to overcome many obstacles in their searches. Fear can quickly turn into shock in a small child, and even in adults.

Shock and fear can create problems for the searchers.

"When fear kicks in, humans do weird things," Hastings said. "A small child may hide, and some places they hide would surprise you. Shock can cause a child to lose their voice, not answering when called. Fear can do the same. They may have been cautioned about talking to strangers, or even be afraid to answer because they think they are in trouble."

Hill agreed with Hastings and expanded on his statement.

"Shock and fear combine to make you sleepy, and if the missing person falls asleep, they may not even hear you calling for them. Many times, they won't answer to a male voice calling, which is why we have women on the Posse. A child will usually respond to a female voice, it sounds safer to a child," Hill said.

When the Posse is called out to do search and rescue, they usually have some information about who is missing. In Thursday's case, they didn't have a name, sex or age of the possible missing child.

"Not knowing is very hard," Hill said. "We can't even use their name, nickname, or a 'honey' or 'buddy' when calling for them. Sometimes we can use the dogs to help search, but we didn't have anything this time, and it's so frustrating. Still, I can't imagine sitting at home if there is a possibility that a child is missing."

According to Sheriff Mike Heaton, the posse work in groups of two, patrolling and searching, and are very helpful in these situations.

"They are one of the best hidden resources Clay County has," Heaton said. "They are trained, capable and always willing to lend a hand."



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