I wish that every young officer could have shared an experience that I had last week. Undersheriff Ron Clark and I were spending Monday afternoon the way we usually do - discussing and learning from the previous week's events and planning the current week's schedule and short-term goals.
We always have the police radio going at the office. You get used to the chatter. We were really plotting and planning about an upcoming patrol vehicle fleet budget workshop when we both caught the tone of the radio traffic change. We heard veteran Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright asking for immediate county help in locating a missing juvenile.
Both Ron and I left the office in Long Beach immediately and headed down to the ocean beach. We had learned from a quick call to our dispatch that the missing youth had gone for a run on the beach and was overdue by almost two hours.
With some of the horrible crimes against children and stranger abductions that have occurred recently we all had that cold chill you get when something bad happens. That chill turned to ice when we learned the missing person was the child of a local law enforcement officer.
Chief Wright mobilized his entire staff. We joined in the search with every officer we had on duty. As soon as I hit the beach my spirits dropped another notch as a dense fog enveloped the dunes to the surf.
As I slowly drove south on the beach towards Beards Hollow I heard more and more agencies joining the search. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers, Long Beach city crews and State Parks rangers began canvassing the many trails throughout the dunes. Our search and rescue unit was activated, search dogs were enroute from Cowlitz, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties. Clatsop County in Oregon even sent a K-9 officer. The U.S. Coast Guard was contacted and a helicopter was diverted from a training mission to assist.
We searched the beach area where we believed that the youth had been planning to jog, without success, for nearly an hour. During that time I contacted anyone we found with a description and a request for help. Everyone said they would call immediately if they saw anything suspicious.
I was driving near the dunes near Red Lake when I saw someone walking the dune line. It was the father, vainly following what he thought was the most likely path his son had taken. I picked him up and we continued looking. At times the fog was so thick the front of my truck was barely visible. Our unspoken fear was that you couldn't see approaching vehicles so how could vehicles driving on the beach see someone jogging. We feared the worst.
While we were searching, each minute had a life of its own. We were doing all we could but it wasn't enough. I watched my passenger shut down more and more as time passed. You could feel the fear rising that all parents have when your child is in danger and you've done all you can.
The fog started clearing, improving visibility along with our chances of success. Suddenly a Long Beach fire unit called dispatch with the great news that the missing person had been located and was being transported to the Bolstad approach. We drove there as quickly as we could. The reunion was everything you would expect.
This search ended very happily. I'll never forget watching this big, tough cop hugging his child on the beach approach. That scene along with law enforcement, city administrators, city crews and citizens working side by side in an emergency to help locate a missing child speaks of why we choose to live here.
We may fight like brothers and sisters within the family, but when a threat appears, we all unite and work together. Something like this helps you realize what the real priorities are.
Now, back to planning that workshop.