Search stopped after local student is found
A nine-year-old student at Tonganoxie Elementary School was located at about 11:15 a.m. Monday, more than three hours after the boy disappeared after getting off a bus at the school.
By the time he was located, about 20 people were searching the Tonganoxie area and an area-wide alert had been put out to law enforcement agencies. Helicopters were en route to Tonganoxie to assist with the search and officers were debating the benefit of calling in search dogs.
Prior to the police department's involvement, however, the school district had been actively involved in a search of its own, according to Superintendent of Schools Richard Erickson.
Erickson said that elementary school principal Jerry Daskoski notified the child's mother immediately, and helped her search places where the boy might have been expected to be found. When their search was unsuccessful, Erickson said, police were called.
The boy was found hiding in a yard at 120 W. Third following a report of a sighting by city employee Jerry Stockman.
Tonganoxie's police department had been turned into command central, with Charlie Conrad, volunteer fire chief, organizing the search involving the fire department, Tonganoxie police officers and volunteer firefighters, as well as Leavenworth County sheriff deputies.
Volunteer fireman Pat Albert kept the command board organized, marking off the areas searched and the location of all those involved in the search.
The youngster, described to police as "about three and a half feet tall with a tendency to take off and hide," according to Conrad, presented a problem to those searching. Conrad said he was further concerned because the trail was cold when the police department's search began.
An alert from the child's family that the boy had been known to accept rides from strangers moved the search into high gear, with Conrad asking for helicopter assistance and area-wide alerts.
The Tonganoxie Police Department was notified of the missing student at about 9:20 a.m. School officials told police the boy had been upset when he boarded the bus at his home, and was still apparently upset when he got off the bus at school, before 8 a.m.
Police heard the initial report that the boy had run down an alley by the school instead of going inside, but not until he had been missing for about an hour and a half.
Daskoski said this was the first "real missing child case" the school had to deal with, adding that in his nine years at the school there had been no official policy or procedure to follow in such instances. Erickson agreed, noting that a policy will be developed soon. In future, he said, police will be notified first.
"After things settled down today we debriefed with the police and agreed that it would have been better to 'cry wolf' early on, and worry about over-reaction later," Daskoski said. "If it ever happens again, we will call first, and evaluate after. In this situation the student had had problems before of not getting on the bus, or of leaving and going to his grandmother's house," he said. "We initially thought that was what we were dealing with."