Volunteer effort fills ranks of search team members 2010.12.01

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

skel.volunteers.jpgBill Foster said he was among several people who got together when the Amber Alert notice warned the public about the disappearance of the three Skelton children.

“Friday night we started posting the Amber Alert and Saturday everybody wanted to gather at the Tourist Camp and start looking,” Foster said.

That was the small beginning of an outpouring of help that followed the next three days.

Foster estimates there were about 250 civilian volunteers Sunday—in addition to members of 12 area fire departments—and an ever larger number on Monday. He’s heard that number might swell again Tuesday.

“They just kept showing up,” Foster said.

Not everyone signed in at the fire hall, so the exact number of searchers is impossible to know.

“It’s been remarkable,” he said. “Just tremendous. We’ve had people from as far away as Indiana.”

Foster said he was put in charge of the civilian volunteers Sunday because the group needed some organization.

“The FBI is calling the shots and we have to do what they tell us,” Foster said. That’s not easy for some searchers.

The federal agents have some strict rules about evidence and they’re the ones choosing which area to investigate.

Morenci Fire Chief Chad Schisler concurs.

“Sometimes it’s hard for the community to understand because they just really want to help,” he said.

“People have to be patient,” Foster said. I’m here to help find the boys and I can put up with anything.”

After Sunday’s search in the Lime Creek Road/White Pine Highway area and Harrison Lake State Park, efforts Monday turned to Williams County, Ohio, looking in ditch banks and searching a campground. The departure orders weren’t given until mid-morning and by then volunteers were more than ready to move out.

Schisler said he was asked to direct two-thirds of a collection of volunteers to the new staging area in Pioneer, Ohio, but when he told them that, they responded that they were all going.

Fire officer Bronson DiCenso was left in charge at the Morenci station. Small crews were dispatched to the roadside park on U.S. 20 south of Lyons, to the Green Valley Campground west of Morenci, and to the gravel pit north of Morenci along Mulberry Road.

“They’re all wanting to get out and look,” DiCenso said. “Everybody’s doing a good job of coming together.”

That statement applies not only to those scouring the countryside; it also includes those providing food for the volunteers. In addition, Foster said, those unable to walk helped serve food, register volunteers, and perform other tasks.

Donations from local businesses helped feed the crew, plus food from individuals. Chips, soups, cookies, pies, bottled water.

“It’s just been outstanding,” Foster said. “Some people dropped off sandwiches on their way to work.”

The outpouring of food was really overwhelming, Schisler said.

“The Salvation Army canteen said it was the most food they ever served,” he said.

Schisler said Monday night he expects to hear the FBI’s next directive the next morning and the process will begin again.

“We’re going to be ready to go out,” he said.

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