When the Newaygo County Sheriff's Department needed help searching for 2 1/2 year old Amber Smith in a heavily wooded area near her home in western Michigan, they called Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers for help, and help they did.
The young child had wandered out of her home and on Oct. 8 and was reported missing by her father at 1:30 p.m. that day. Searchers from the sheriff's department along with conservation officers immediately began looking for little Amber in the nearby Manistee National Forest which lies along the border of the area where she was last seen.
After 24-hours, Amber was located by Conservation Officer Jeff Ginn, who was working as part of the search and rescue teams on site. She was found in a wooded area just under 2-miles from her home. Temperatures over night had fallen to the low 40's.
According to Fox 17 News of Western Michigan, Officer Ginn said that when he found Amber, he was surprised that she had fared so well after spending a night alone in the woods.
“She was just standing there near a brush pile, and I approached her,” said Ginn. “She was afraid. I just picked her up, gave her a hug, and told her everything is okay,”
When Ginn made the radio call that he had found the girl, his partner Officer Michael Wells later told Fox 17 reporters, "it was probably one of the biggest moments of my career. My heart skipped a beat."
Both officers won the praise of DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler, who knew that their expertise in search and rescue work helped to bring the search to a happy conclusion.
“Our officers go through extensive training to locate lost persons in the woods, and they are experts in the areas where they work, knowing the terrain better than anyone,” Chief Hagler said. “In this case, a team of our officers helped search overnight and into the morning for this missing little girl, and we were successful in locating her alive, with just some minor cuts and bruises.”
According to searchers, the search protocols and search grids set up by the conservation officers were key in locating the little girl.
“Every year, Michigan conservation officers assist in searches for lost persons in the woods and on the water, saving many lives,” Chief Hagler said. “There is much more to our jobs than just checking licenses and catching poachers. A conservation officer is also a public safety officer, employing his or her special skills in situations like these to help a family or a community.”
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