WARSAW, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - On September 16, 2016, a silver alert was issued for 59-year-old schizophrenic Stephen O’Dell who went missing in Warsaw.
“We were very worried for his safety, concerned about if somebody did something bad to him,” Amanda Murphy, O’Dell’s niece said.
Murphy put up fliers all over town and organized search parties, but O’Dell wasn’t found until 48 hours later, safe, just blocks from where he was last seen.
“We train for this, this is what we work for,” Warsaw Police Officer Isaiah Kennedy said.
Frustrated by the countless people that go missing everyday across the country, Kennedy sniffed an opportunity. The Warsaw Police Department has created the 'find my family scent bank.' They collect a person’s scent, store it, and use it, if needed. They’re prepared to bring it out so their K-9, "Usher," can track down a missing person, hopefully sooner than later.
“It’s completely voluntary,” Warsaw Police Chief Eric Southerland said.
The chief said he was a little skeptical when his young ambitious officer brought him the idea.
“Well, you know, like most people, you don’t know how’s the public going to take it,” Chief Southerland said.
But he took a leap of faith, using $300 out of his discretionary budget, he bought the needed supplies, sterile bottles and gauze, that are stored in his jail.
“I thought it's worth a shot, you know, if we can find one person that goes missing, one child, one person with cognitive impairment, and we’re able to return them safely to their family, you know it’ll be worth it,” Chief Southerland said.
The scent will last up to a year, according to Officer Kennedy. “We’re hoping that people will come back every six months and change it out,” he said.
The Warsaw Health and Rehabilitation Center got a whiff of what was going on, and hopes to bring the scent bank to their 100-bed facility.
“Even though we may have different things in place. They’re not always foolproof, so things happen, so if we have something like a scent so if somebody got away, we will find them so much quicker,” Cheryl Smith, administrator at the Health and Rehabilitation Center said.
The facility is in the process of gathering consent from all of their families.
“It’s just another safeguard that makes them feel safer with their family member being here with us,” Smith said.
FOX 46’s Brien Blakely put one of the K-9 units to the test, to see if he could track down his scent and within minutes, he found him.
“Honestly it’s a great way to bring awareness to the fact that so many of these people that go missing with dementia and cognitive impairments every year, and its way for us to have a conversation with families about what’s your plan if your family member goes missing,” Officer Kennedy said.
Amanda Murphy wishes she had used a scent to track down her Uncle Stephen when he went missing. “Yes they probably would have found him a little earlier,” she said.