Missing Newaygo County girl found

NEWAYGO COUNTY — News ran down the search party line like an old-fashioned game of telephone — They found her. She’s alive.

After trekking through about a mile of dense forest, a group of more than 50 volunteers were readying themselves to sweep a cornfield near Amber Rose Smith’s Barton Township home when the good news came over the radios of search team leaders, prompting applause, cheers and shouts of “Thank you, Jesus!”

DNR Conservation Officer Jeff Ginn, driving an all-terrain vehicle and assisting with search efforts, found Amber on a two-track road nearly two miles southeast of her home, said DNR Sgt. Mike Bomay. Ginn was searching with two sheriff’s deputies and two forest service agents.

“I waited for him to come up out of the ravine,” Bomay said. “And when I saw him come out of the ravine, he had Amber with him.”

“When he found her, she was standing and she was alert,” said Newaygo County Undersheriff Brian Boyd. “Further information on her medical status we don’t have, but it sounds good.”

The 2-year-old girl was taken by ambulance to Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital for further evaluation.

“The obvious thing we were worried about was exposure,” Boyd said. “When you’re a child, your body is not as adept as an adult (to adjusting to temperature drops), so there’s a big exposure risk.”

Police say Amber wandered away from her home, located on 13 Mile Road between Cottonwood and Beech avenues, sometime around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. She spent the night outside, exposed to temperatures that dipped into the mid- to low 40s.

As soon as news broke of the girl’s disappearance on Tuesday night, local residents on social media sites began asking how they could help find her. By Wednesday morning, after K-9 units had searched the area, Newaygo County’s Emergency Services and the sheriff’s department opened the search to volunteers. By 11 a.m., between 200 and 300 citizen volunteers from four counties arrived at Hawkins Park to assist Newaygo County Emergency Services trained volunteers.

“They had a huge impact on the search because they could cover more ground quickly, methodically and thoroughly,” said Abby Watkins, emergency services director. “When the search involves a child, people want to come out because everyone can relate to the situation, whether they’re thinking of a grandchild, their own child or a young family member.”

With her own 2-year-old daughter in mind, Big Rapids resident Renee Glover joined the search effort Wednesday morning.

“I just cried last night thinking about that little girl out in the woods,” she said. “Here I was, in my home, under a blanket, and my baby was asleep in her bed.”

For Chase resident Dawn Walworth, the idea of a missing child hit even closer to home. Walworth is a cousin on Baby Kate, the 4-month-old infant from Ludington still missing and believed dead since 2011, and has attended every search effort that has been open to citizen volunteers.

“When it was my baby cousin, I was hoping and praying people would come out to search,” she said. “And people did, and that was great. When I found out there was another missing child, I couldn’t not be here.”

Herald Review staff writer Josh Roesner contributed to this report.