Posted by: Marie | October 4, 2010

(414) Part of something bigger – Part 2 of 2

Post #414
[Private journal entry written on Sunday, April 11, 2010 – continued from previous post]

After the briefing, I lead my team out to the parking lot to get organized. (Yippee!! I get to organize a team! This is definitely my comfort zone!!)

“Okay . . . first off . . . let’s learn each others’ names . . . what cars are you driving? Who is car-pooling and who is driving alone? How long can you stay out in the field? Do you know how to get to the search location? Who knows how to read a topology map? We will be miles and miles from civilization . . who needs gas? Food? Water? We will be miles from any medical care – does anyone have a medical condition I need to know about? Who has had first-aid training? Who knows CPR? Does everyone have good walking shoes? Sunscreen? Put my cell phone number in your phones’ speed dial and write your names and numbers on this piece of paper . . .”

Anping Harbor by Martin Chen

About then, the briefing officer came out with four additional searchers. She needed to find a team with a leader who could handle an extra large team. When she walked up to my group, she just laughed . . .

“I’ve been watching you for the last couple of minutes and I can see you know what you are doing. I have no doubt you can handle an extra large team . . . so, here are some more team members for you . . . ”

Well, it’s nice to know someone appreciates my anal retentiveness! LOL

Anyway . . . I had never done an open field search before . . . my experience is more related to buildings and wrecks and mass casualties, etc. But, I have had training on establishing search patterns in open areas and I am familiar with how to identify and properly handle potential evidence. So, I had a pretty good idea what needed to happen.

We drove in a caravan of eight cars from the headquarters to a farm about 20 miles (32 km) outside of town. When we arrived, I saw there was a farmhouse across the road from our starting point. So, I led the caravan into the driveway (farm driveways out here in the plains are huge and can easily handle eight cars).

I spoke with the young couple living in the house and asked if it was okay for us to stage in their driveway. They were tickled to have us there! They invited us to use their bathroom and to refill water bottles in the kitchen throughout the day . . . and, they gave us several rolls of toilet paper to take with us in case someone needed to take a potty break out in the field.

The wife laughed about the fact they hardly ever have company because they are so far out in the boonies . . . so, she was rather surprised to have 14 people (and one dog) show up unannounced! She handled it well . . . even though we caught her in her pajamas, LOL!

The team was fabulous . . . no one was trying to show off or be rogue, everyone followed the plan and asked questions when they didn’t understand the plan, they took their responsibilities seriously, everyone freely shared their water and food, and no one said a single word of complaint about anything. They were absolutely awesome.

At first, they kept taking off in different directions like a herd of cats despite the fact I instructed them to stay together. But, before long, I got them to stay in a line and do 50-100 foot-wide (15-30 meter-wide) sweeps, shoulder to shoulder, in an organized manner.

I had to teach them what to look for . . . that not every single piece of trash and every burned stick was noteworthy. They were willing to listen, and they learned quickly and adjusted well.

Our team included a university physics professor, a road design engineer and a software engineer. The three of them put their heads together and calculated the area to be covered and kept our lines straight over the wide-open spaces . . . and they figured out the pace we needed to maintain. I was happy to let them handle all of that!

We covered a 1/2-mile (0.8 km) by 3/4-mile (1.2 km) space in five hours by keeping 5-20 feet (2-6 meters) between each person – in rougher terrain, we stayed closer together; in open spaces, we spread further apart.

By the end of the day, we were down to five people because the others had to head off to other obligations over the course of day. We calculated that the five people who stuck it out to the end had each walked a total distance of about 8-9 miles (13-14 km). We all were feeling it . . . our bones were very tired!

None of us had ever done a search like this before . . . and none of us knew the family. But, we had all been motivated to show up because of the plea for help on the news. Some of the team members had traveled as far as 50 miles one-way (80 km) to do this.

They each had their own reasons for wanting to help . . . some had kids and couldn’t imagine their children disappearing, some had been affected by similar situations in the past, one was newly divorced and new to the area and wanted to do something to feel part of the community . . .

Anyway . . . it was a phenomenal experience. Our team didn’t find any evidence, nor did any of the other teams that searched today. But, as the briefing officer said, the areas covered by the 140 people who showed up today can now be taken off the list of areas yet to be searched – and that is progress.

When we checked back in at headquarters at the end of the day for the de-briefing, one of the search managers from the Laura Search & Recovery Center pulled me aside and said she was passing along to the local law enforcement in her written report that I had been an impressive team leader. That way, they would know to call on me to lead should I ever volunteer again. And, a couple of the team members said they would request to be on my team if we ever did this again because it had been such a positive experience for them.

That made me feel very good inside. This is an example of how the “keep everything organized” part of me is continuing to be re-tooled for more positive purposes.

Driving home, as I ran my hand over my dusty, sunburned face, I acknowledged this had been a very good day for me. I’m glad I listened to that still, small voice. It was the right thing to do.

And, yet, in the midst of all my good feelings, my thoughts are still with Kayleah’s family – it probably was not a good day for them.


  1. I’m so glad you took the risk and did this … it was such a positive action in the midst of tragedy, and a very meaningful setting in which to discover some of your core strengths and see them appreciated. Sounds like in looking for that child, you found part of yourself. I hope very much that the ultimate end of this story is the recovery of the missing girl, though I know how unlikely that is. But in any event, I am so impressed that you volunteered.

    • Thanks, David . . .

      It did have an impact on me . . . a positive one . . . and, it gave me some perspective on what is really important.

      I appreciate your support!

      – Marie

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