VALDOSTA The Valdosta Police Department is using all available means to search for Paula Ann Wade and her son, Brandon Lee, who have been missing since Oct. 13.
The latest search started at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, using specially trained cadaver dogs and handlers. The search began in a six-acre area off of Highway 145 on the Madison County, Fla. side of the Withlacoochee River. The search continued Saturday afternoon off of Highway 133 in a 49-acre area near the Little River Boat Ramp.
Since the mother and son were reported missing, numerous methods have been used in hopes of locating them, including the use of all-terrain vehicles and aerial searches using helicopters from the Alabama National Guard that use thermal imagery and forward-looking infrared devices, said Cdr. Steve Heaton of the Valdosta Police Department.
The Georgia State Patrol, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia Bureau of Investigations, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Escambia County Sheriff's Office have contributed countless man hours trying to find Wade and her son, Heaton said. In addition, members of Wades' family have spent several hundred hours distributing flyers and making phone calls. "If she's (Wade) not alive, we owe it the family to locate her and bring her to them to offer some kind of closure," Heaton said.
Assisting the K-9 unit was Sgt. Steve Owens of the Valdosta Police Department, who has been involved with the investigation from its beginning. The investigation so far has accumulated about 1,000 pages of documentation, Heaton said.
Owens made contact with Angela Batten, a K-9 handler with Dogs South K-9 Search and Rescue for about three years. Batten visited the areas to be searched a little over a week ago to make coordination for the search. The members and dogs for the search started arriving Friday. In total, there are 16 people and nine cadaver dogs involved. They come from as far away as Tampa, Port Charlotte, and Sebring, Fla., Batten said.
The dogs are trained to look for human remains and will not alert to dead animals, Batten said. It takes at least a year to two years to train the dogs, she said.
Fortunately, the search at the Florida side of the Withlacoochee River was negative and the team and dogs took a short break before heading north to search the larger area around the Little River Boat Ramp. The area will be gridded off using maps and Global Positioning Systems units, Battens said.
"Our GPS units are set to record when we go out and what we do when we come back to base camp and we plug that in to the laptop and that way we can tell how thoroughly the area has been covered if we need to go back and check an area."
The search will continue today.
To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.
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