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‘It took a village’
Missing woman located after 5 hours
missing woman

MONROE — The successful search last week for a missing 85-year-old Argyle woman with Alzheimer’s quickly mobilized a community-wide response, with people driving from as far as three counties away to help.

“It took a village to find the lady,” said Monroe Chief of Police Fred Kelley.

For more than five hours Thursday night, as temperatures dropped below freezing, no one knew where Jean C. Schiller was.

One minute she was standing by the exit doors at Pick ‘n’ Save, waiting for family to finish shopping for groceries. The next minute, she was gone.

“They looked away for like 30 seconds to pay, and all of a sudden, she’s gone,” Kelley said. 

Schiller was reported missing to police at about 4:15 p.m. She didn’t have access to a vehicle, and in sneakers, slacks and a jacket, she wasn’t dressed for extended outdoor exposure.

The search remained a local effort at first, with city police officers, firefighters and Green County deputies canvassing the area around Pick ‘n’ Save. But as the hours passed and the evening got colder, “it became more of a search-and-rescue-type operation,” Kelley said.

An alert with a photo and physical description of Schiller on the Monroe Police Department Facebook page drew hundreds of comments and got shared thousands of times, with people giving suggestions and volunteering to help find her.

“Everyone should take a quick look in their yards, sheds, garages and unlocked vehicles. You never know. Worth the effort,” one woman commented.

Another wrote that she’d just come back from a two-and-a-half-hour walk around Monroe “looking all over and calling her name.”

Offers of help came pouring in, said Monroe Fire Chief Dan Smits, whose department led the search. Area fire departments started arriving in Monroe. The Green County Sheriff’s Office deployed its drone. A call to Wisconsin Emergency Management summoned a team from the State Capitol Police Department in Madison.

Around 9 p.m., Illinois Search & Rescue arrived from Tampico, a town about an hour and a half south of Monroe. The members of Illinois Search & Rescue are Mennonite and operate under the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish-Mennonite nonprofit organization that does humanitarian work around the world.

About 25 members made the trip to Monroe, said Ralph Kropf, state coordinator for the program.

“One of our members lives up there in South Wayne” and alerted the team to the search for Schiller, he said.

It was the team’s first time in Green County.

“We try to stay within four hours of Tampico but we’ve been as far as Alberta, Canada,” he said.

Illinois Search & Rescue travels with a mobile command unit, a trailer outfitted with specialized radio and tracking equipment for use in search-and-rescue operations.

“I was impressed by what they were able to bring out in terms of people and equipment,” Smits said of Illinois Search & Rescue. “It would have helped us out tremendously if we were to have kept going.”

But they ended up not needing it. Just over five hours after she went missing, Schiller was located in the same block where she went missing.

Kordell Heitkam, a Colony Brands security guard on patrol, spotted Schiller standing outside the Ruda Chevrolet Toyota auto dealership, Smits said. The dealership is across Honey Creek from Pick ‘n’ Save but in the same block and on the same side of 8th Street.

“We can thank a Colony security guard for being alert and paying attention,” Smits said.

As for Schiller, she was unharmed but “really cold,” Kelley said. EMS medics were called in to evaluate her as a precaution.

Reflecting on the search the next day, Smits identified three takeaways.

First, return to areas that have already been checked. Smits said he searched the area around the Ruda dealership within a half hour before Schiller was found there.

“I had a family member with me and we walked that entire (lot). We looked at a every car and everything,” he said. “It shows you have to go back more than once.”

Second, Smits said it’s important to “take advantage of the resources that are available for people who may get confused at times,” like those with Alzheimer’s disease. A GPS tracking bracelet can quickly locate someone who has wandered off.

“Technology has really taken off on that end,” Smits said.

Lastly, “always try to have recent pictures of people in your family,” he said. “That was very advantageous for us last night.”