Jun. 22—WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP — A 77-year-old West Mead man who went missing shortly after midnight Monday was located in safe condition later that afternoon, according to police.
The search for Henry Reefer lasted nearly six hours and involved numerous public safety agencies, tips from nearby residents and a helpful security camera image posted to the Tribune’s Facebook page, according to Officer Daniel Palka of West Mead Township Police Department. Most importantly, it had a happy ending.
“Definitely,” Palka said Monday evening. “You couldn’t ask for a better one.”
Reefer was located about a half-mile from his house just before 4 p.m. He was found in a building between the tracks of the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad and Channellock Inc., according to Palka, near the the intersection of Clark Road and South Cottage Street.
Reefer was awake when located with minor injuries and possible dehydration after approximately 16 hours away from home, but was otherwise in good condition, Palka said. He was evaluated by Meadville Area Ambulance Service personnel and transported to Meadville Medical Center.
Palka responded to Reefer’s Mulligan Lane residence at around 10:30 a.m. Monday when Reefer was first reported as missing. Subsequent investigation suggested that Reefer suffered from dementia and had likely walked away from his home at around 12:10 a.m., according to police.
Upon learning of Reefer’s medical condition and determining the seriousness of the situation, West Mead officers and crews from both West Mead 1 and West Mead 2 fire departments joined in the efforts to locate Reefer, according to Palka. Pennsylvania State Police issued a Missing and Endangered Person Advisory and troopers from the Meadville barracks and the Aviation Patrol Unit joined the effort as well, as did officers from Vernon Township Police Department, firefighters from Meadville Central and Vernon Central fire departments, and volunteers from Northwest Pennsylvania K-9 Search and Rescue. A Crawford County Public Safety mobile command center was also deployed, Palka said.
While numerous teams were searching on the ground, a net was being cast online as well, with the state police sharing the missing person advisory on multiple social media platforms.
As news of Reefer’s disappearance spread, reports from nearby residents helped authorities begin to construct a timeline, according to Palka.
“Social media can be an amazing thing to help out,” he said.
One key tip, Palka added, came from QRS Construction, 1379 S. Main St., which is located not far from where Reefer eventually was located. In a comment on the Tribune’s Facebook link to the story, QRS owner Andy Curtis posted a screenshot taken from security video showing what appeared to be Reefer outside the contractor’s building at 3:58 a.m.
“That was a big tip in trying to pinpoint his direction,” Palka said of the image posted at 1:49 p.m., “and it gave us a clothing description.”
The involvement of numerous agencies, combined with the social media element, made the investigation unique in Palka’s experience.
“It was definitely a whole team effort,” he said.
Chief Chip Brown similarly emphasized the important roles played by multiple contributors in locating Reefer.
“When a community and law enforcement work together it can have a positive outcome,” he said. “In this case an elderly gentleman’s life was saved today.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at [email protected].
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