BERLIN — New details emerged this week in the search for an elderly Berlin woman with dementia and short-term memory loss last seen at her residence near South Point on Memorial Day.
Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, May 28, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office received a missing persons report on Helen Stephanie David, 77, from her son, Ryan Putney. David lives on Carefree Lane and was last seen by family members shortly after 3 p.m. on May 27.
Throughout last week and in the days since, an extensive search has been conducted in the South Point area and along the Route 611 corridor on the ground, by air and in the water and marshes to no avail. At the height of the search last week, local law enforcement agencies were assisted by the Civil Air Patrol and search and rescue teams from as far away as the western shore and an army of citizen volunteers combed the woods and properties around South Point by flashlight.
While the search continues this week, the massive effort has been scaled back somewhat as the days David has been missing continue to pass. Putney said yesterday the local authorities continue to search, but are considering the effort more of a recovery now and not a rescue.
“They’ve significantly cut back, but there is only so much they can do,” he said. “They are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have and they continue to have great positive attitudes, but they’re considering the effort to be in the recovery stage now.”
The search was bolstered this week when the Delaware Search and Rescue K-9 group, an all-volunteer citizen agency with decades of expertise in the recovery of missing persons, particularly those with dementia and Alzheimer’s for example, was enlisted and approved by local law enforcement to join the effort. According to Putney, the Delaware Search and Rescue K-9 group was contacted on Sunday and a meeting was coordinated with local law enforcement on Monday.
“That’s very important because they are in a rescue mode, not a recovery mode,” he said. “They have 20-plus years of experience working with law enforcement agencies and they have a high success rate. The big thing is they have specific behavioral education for cases like this. This is what they do.”
Meanwhile, Putney this week revealed some new details that had not yet been made public. For example, he said an eyewitness reported seeing David walking down South Point Rd. around 8:45 p.m. on Memorial Day evening nearly six hours after she had last been seen at home. Putney said the spotting had not been confirmed, although the witness was able to provide accurate information about her identity.
“The witness gave a name and number, so he has credence and legitimacy,” he said. “The witness was also able to describe my mother down to the clothes she was wearing, her age and her body size.”
Putney said much of the search effort thus far has concentrated on the water and the marshes in and around South Point, but he continues to have reservations about that possible outcome.
“Their initial instincts were she ended up in the water and there have been at least two dive team searches, a sonar boat search and dog teams searching the marshes,” he said. “My instinct is she is not in the water. For one thing, she was wearing Birkenstock sandals which float and they surely would have been found.”
Putney said he has a couple of working theories about his mother’s possible whereabouts. He firmly believes someone picked her up.
“I think someone offered her a ride,” he said. “She is very friendly and she would be willing to accept help.”
If someone did offer David a ride, Putney has a few theories on what could have happened next. For example, Carefree Drive, which is essentially a long driveway to her home, is not distinguishable from other long driveways in the rural area and she might have been dropped off at a different one. Putney said some of the homes in the area are part-time summer residences and the owners might not have been back since Memorial Day weekend.
In another scenario, Putney said people with dementia sometimes tell others trying to find out where they live where they were born or where they grew up, lending credence to the theory a vehicle could have picked David up and attempted to take her to her hometown in Pennsylvania. Putney’s third possible scenario is more sinister.
“She is very friendly and warms up to people quickly,” he said. “Maybe someone picked her with good intentions, and through the course of events became opportunistic.”
Meanwhile, Putney remains optimistic for a happy ending.
“I continue to have a lot of positive energy and I’m hopeful she’ll be found alive and well,” he said. “The community has been wonderful and there are a ton of prayers headed our way, so I’ve got to keep a positive attitude and hope for the best. I really feel good about Delaware Search and Rescue joining the effort.”
David is about 5’6” tall and around 142 pound with salt-and-pepper hair of medium length. When last seen, she was wearing a blue and white blouse with flowers, light blue Capri-style pants, two pairs of white socks and possibly tan Burkenstock sandals. Anyone with information about David’s whereabouts is urged to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 410-632-1111.