VILONIA — A 10-year-old Vilonia girl was found safe in bed at around 11 p.m. amid a wide scale seven- to eight-hour search by multiple state and local agencies and numerous volunteers Sunday.
The search across fields, streams and woods began about an hour after police say Sarah Swayze jumped from her grandparents’ vehicle near their home on Kara Lane at 3:30 p.m.
Swayze, who police said has developmental disabilities, reportedly fled on foot to a nearby wooded area.
"We’re going to investigate to see how she got back (home). We don’t know at this point if she was alone or had help. It’s mind boggling how that could happen when we searched the house three or four times, and there she is," said Chief Deputy Matt Rice of the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Andy Shock said late Sunday it appeared Sarah had "snuck in the back door" amid the wide scale search of the terrain around her grandparents’ home.
Also being looked into, Rice said, is any reason why Sarah may have jumped from the vehicle and fled.
Rice said Monday that Sarah is at home.
When it became dark and Sarah had yet to be found, a mobile incident command center was established at Ballard Road near Kara Lane, where state and local agencies coordinated the search.
An Arkansas State Police helicopter and spotlight were used for an air search, and search dogs were used on the ground with searchers who were on foot and in ATVs.
Alongside many local agencies were volunteer searchers who are neighbors, friends, and parents of children who know Sarah, and numerous others who responded to help in the effort despite the late hour and the cold.
"There were tons of people there. It was pretty awesome," Rice said. "There were people — even though we told them not to come — that wanted to come and help any way they could. We hate to turn anyone away, but we had to get organized. We had to organize the search for certain areas, and we had so many squads, dogs and a helicopter. It needed to be organized."
Near the end of the search, groups were following search dogs looking for a scent in areas where sightings had been reported earlier in the evening.
Shock said deputies went back to the grandparents’ home, as they had done several times already, he said, and found Sarah safe and unharmed in bed.
"It’s a bit weird," Rice said. "We’re trying to nail it down to see what happened. There might not be anything to it but I’d like to know."
Before Sarah was found, Rice said agencies were ready to stay on the search overnight.
Friends and neighbors who were helping with traffic and the search effort on the dead-end road expressed worry about Sarah, called her "sweet," and said prayers for her safe return.
Arkansas State Police, Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office, Faulkner County Rescue Squad, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Hill Top Volunteer Fire Department, Vilonia Fire Department and Liberty Volunteer Fire Department were some of the agencies responding Sunday.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236, or on Twitter @Courtneyism. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)