Project Lifesaver tracks down vulnerable children, adults who wander

Tuesday, July 3, 2018
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The initiative by the Durham Sheriff's Office to find missing people faster

DURHAM, NC (WTVD) -- When it's hot and someone goes missing, minutes and seconds count.

During the weekend, two people were rescued after wandering off thanks to a rapid-search-and-rescue program provided by the Durham County Sheriff's Office. It's called Project Lifesaver.

Children and adults who cope with autism, Alzheimer's, Down syndrome and dementia wear a bracelet around their wrist or ankle that helps officers track them down when they wander away.

ABC11 met 10-year-old Nicolas McKinney who is living with autism.

When Nicholas is upset or frustrated, he likes to wander off.

Nicholas' mother, Shatockia, signed up for the Project Lifesaver program.

A trained search team responds using a radio frequency gun.

This equipment sets off a one-mile radius signal to the bracelet, which matches a unique code assigned to the missing person.

The more frequent the beeps, the closer the person.

Two years ago, Shatockia McKinney got a call while she was out of town that Nicholas had wandered somewhere in their neighborhood.

Because Nicholas was wearing the project lifesaver bracelet, Officers and neighbors were able to track him down quickly and unharmed.

"It was dark. It was getting cold. Even when I go back and look and think about what could have happened to him." McKinney said. "It helps him out. It helps us out. It's a safeguard for us."

Most wanderers are found within 30 minutes.

"It feels awesome that they get to go back home. And we don't tie up a whole lot of money, a whole lot of resources, a lot of people to find one person," said Sgt. Brad Kirby of the Durham County Sheriff's Office.

The program is free to families like McKinney's who don't have to worry about the cost of keeping wanderers protected.

Those bracelets cost $300 or more. Community donations allow them to be free to those who need them.

If you have a loved one that could benefit from this program, you can apply by downloading an application for service on the Durham County Sheriff's Office website, or call (919) 560-0826.