• April 8, 2020

Families of missing need help - Odessa American: Law Enforcement

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Families of missing need help

Search continues for 78-year-old Odessa man

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Posted: Monday, February 17, 2020 4:44 pm

The Ector County Sheriff’s Office sent out a search party looking for a missing man Sunday and by Monday Sheriff Mike Griffis said there’s a chance 78-year-old Edward Moss wandered off with “someone else” but they aren’t sure and are still looking for him.

“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” he said of searching the vast area of West Odessa.

Griffis said ECSO were called at 7 a.m. Sunday when the man’s daughter arrived at his home to take him to breakfast and he was gone.

Griffis said Moss, who has cognitive impairment, appeared to take his keys and ID with him. Law enforcement, neighbors, and family formed a search party to look for him near the 3500 block of North Alexander Avenue in West Odessa. They knocked on every door and searched in alleys.

 Moss has been known to frequent restaurants and cafes in West Odessa. Griffis said someone reported seeing him on Saturday night at the end of the 3500 block and that he was just standing there. “We hope to find this gentleman and we hope he’s OK,” Griffis said while adding that people should keep an eye out and if they see him to contact the Ector County Sheriff’s Office at 432-335-3050.

His oldest granddaughter, Tiffany Patterson, 38, stood in front of her grandfather’s home and said the family of about 20 has been searching and canvassing different neighborhoods since he’s been gone. They have handed out hundreds of flyers with his picture on them.

She said that he’s been diagnosed with dementia and knows that he took his medicine Saturday night, but she’s worried about the fact that he hasn’t had his medicine in over 24 hours and that he’s on foot in the elements and may not know where he is. His favorite places to visit are the Country Café, Playtime Lounge and Big Daddy Zanes. A neighbor recalls seeing him return home around 6:30 p.m. Saturday night.

Patterson said the dementia was recently getting worse and the family was in the process of trying to convince Moss to either move in with them or to apply one of ECSO’s Project Lifesaver tracking devices. She said he had nurses visit him often and that the family keeps daily contact with him as well as Meals on Wheels.

Patterson said they’ve canvassed over 100 homes and had help from more than 40 strangers from the Facebook community trying to reach out and help.

“I’m praying that he stays visible, that he stays on the pavement,” she said. “We’ve only got a few tips and we’ve ruled them out,” she said. “That’s all we’ve got right now. We’re working on nothing cuz we don’t know which way he went, which direction, why he left, what his train of thought was.” Patterson said.

“Nobody’s ready for anything like this,” she added saying they did have all the information for law enforcement to put out a Silver Alert.

“We’re trying to keep just that positive energy that we’re gonna find him alive. That’s our biggest, biggest concern,” she said.

 This is one of several reports of an elderly going missing in recent months in the Odessa area. When an elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia wanders off, local law enforcement officials say time is of the essence. 

Odessa Police Department Detective Justin Caid, 29, said there are a lot of seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s in the community. “We try to do our best to keep track of them, to be aware of where they reside and communicate with their family.”

Caid also said it’s a misconception when people think they have to wait 24 hours before reporting them missing. If someone’s, “been missing for 10 minutes, it doesn’t matter…we’ll definitely respond.”

OPD Chief Michael Gerke said, “Anything like that will become project number one.”

Caid detailed that when someone goes missing an officer meets with family for a description of the missing person and to see if they have any information or a cell phone on them that could potentially help them track the location. Then they’ll relay that information to other officers and other law enforcement in the area as well as send out information to the media.

“Typically if they’re not located, it will go out region wide within a couple hours,” he said. Usually, Caid said, those elderly citizens who wander usually have had previous incidents so OPD tries to keep in contact with them and their family.

Though police put out a report after a person is missing, Caid said, “it’s better to get them help before,” and that there are qualifications family must meet before law enforcement can put out a Silver Alert. He said that the family or a legal guardian of the missing person should try to provide documentation from a medical or mental health professional of the missing person’s condition, so if their loved one does go missing they have that information on hand.  Caid said regardless OPD will put out a report, but the Silver Alert holds a little more traction because of the mass text alerts, which can help people in the area report a missing person.

Caid said that it’s common for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to go back to a childhood home or a place that has significant meaning to them. It’s good for family members to have a list of where their loved one may go.

Odessan Di’Dammie Thompson, 38, recalled taking care of her stepfather who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  Thompson said she moved back home from Harlingen to help her mom look after him in 2009.

Thompson said her stepfather would sometimes vanish. She’d find him at the neighbor’s house or he would swipe the truck keys. Multiple times, he’d drive to McDonald’s and come back with about $40 worth of hamburgers, always without pickles. She said he would feed the burgers to each of his six poodles. Thompson said the situation was heartbreaking, and although things weren’t always great, the two had become very close.

Thompson said during a snow storm about 10 years ago she woke to the sound of the door slamming. She put on her bathrobe, boots, and grabbed her phone.

“I figured that I was just going to chase him around the driveway or the yard,” she wrote in an email. “It was around 2 a.m. He was walking away from the house. He kept telling her that he needed to get his long haul truck. She walked with him trying to get him to go back inside before calling her brother.”

Thompson said it would be months later that the family put him in a nursing home where he died at age 88. “This disease took an amazing man and destroyed every memory he had,” she wrote.

Thompson tries to participate in the Alzheimer’s walk every year, she said.

“There comes a point where somebody needs to intervene, somebody needs to step in and if someone has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia then somebody needs to do something,” she said.

Some families get help from the Ector County Sheriff’s Office’s Project Lifesaver program, which uses tracking transmitters to find those who tend to wander.

ECSO Investigator Heidi Zavala, 37, who’s been the head of Project Lifesaver for over a year said that the process to get a loved one a bracelet is fairly easy. The project is free to those who qualify. Usually the program applies to a range of different people from the elderly struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s to kids living with Autism, Down syndrome or brain injuries. Zavala said with the bracelets it takes deputies around 25 minutes to find someone missing.

Without a bracelet, deputies go through protocol. They meet with families and set up a perimeter around the home of the missing person and notify other departments. Most people who walk off are within a mile or two of the house. If that person remains missing and has an illness that puts them in danger as well as being 65-years-old or older, ECSO will put out a Silver Alert.

After those people are found by deputies Zavala tries to sign them up for the program. Zavala said that sometimes those older patients that wander off have sundown syndrome. Sundown syndrome is a phenomenon where those struggling with aging tend to wander of have increased agitation at sunset. While it is possible that people get sundown syndrome from regular aging, Zavala said one in five people with Alzheimer’s have it. At sunset, those people wander, become agitated and paranoid of those around them. They might yell or develop trust issues with their family members.

Zavala said that a good support system like other family members helping one another care for their loved one works for a lot of her clients.

Zavala tries to put herself in her client’s situations saying that she puts in as much effort in looking for other peoples families as she would if they were her own.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t know about the program and who could benefit from it and have a peace of mind at home.”

Zavala said that she thinks it’s important that “we care for our elderly just as they cared for us when they were able to. “They’d put out the effort for us if they could. That’s how I see it.”

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