New equipment helps deputies find missing woman

Posted 7/3/20

SILER CITY — A recent investment in handheld thermal imaging scopes to aid in search and rescue operations just paid big dividends for the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies two weeks …

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New equipment helps deputies find missing woman

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SILER CITY — A recent investment in handheld thermal imaging scopes to aid in search and rescue operations just paid big dividends for the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies two weeks ago used the equipment to find a woman who suffered from dementia who’d wandered away from her home.

On the evening of June 17, a 911 call came into the sheriff’s office about a missing woman. The woman — whose family requested her name not be used because of her condition — had been suffering from dementia for six years. She would often walk around the yard aimlessly and walk down their driveway in the past. Her husband told the News + Record she “wanders sometimes” and as a result, he’d placed deadbolts on all the doors of the house.

On that Wednesday, the husband sat down in a chair in his living room, regrouping before heading back outside, and fell asleep.

He had forgotten to deadbolt one door, and when he woke, his wife was gone.

Living in a rural area in Siler City, the husband said he jumped into his golf cart to search for his wife, but couldn’t find her. He called 911 to help. Several deputies arrived at the scene. Deputies at the scene called in additional resources, including a search dog and a request for a search helicopter from the State Highway Patrol. At the same time, two deputies began searching the area equipped with a Leupold LTO Tracker 2 HD Thermal Viewer.

The device — which cannot see through buildings, but detects heat signatures — is marketed to hunters to find deer and other game in low light. They’re about 5 inches long, weigh about 7 ounces and retail for more than $1,500 each. The sheriff’s office acquired enough to provide at least one deputy on duty with a device at all times. It purchased aound 10 of them in bulk for just over $500 each. That number of imagers allows for there to be at least one patrol car equipped with the device at all times.

The husband of the missing woman described them as “flares,” saying he’d used similar but more powerful thermal imagers while serving in Vietnam.

The deputies used the thermal imager to spot the missing woman’s heat source on the edge of the woods behind another home about a half mile from her house.

“If it hadn’t been for the flare, I don’t think we would have found her,” her husband said.

When found, the woman was a bit cold and had some bug bites, but was no worse for wear, according to her husband. And the deputies were able to call off the search helicopter before it even took off in Raleigh, according to the police narrative.

The woman’s husband was very grateful to the Chatham County deputies for finding his wife and for “how professional” they were. He said the equipment “already paid for itself” in saving his wife’s life. He also noted that with the prevalence of dementia in his and his wife’s generation, he believes the thermal imager is “something I’m sure they’re going to need more and more.”

“I would hope that eventually they have one with just about every officer or maybe every group of officers, especially in certain parts of the county,” he said. “That way they wouldn’t have to wait for someone to come from another part of the county. And it’s not that expensive compared to other equipment they have.”

Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson said he was excited to be able to use the technology to locate missing people outdoors at night — when they might otherwise be impossible to find.

“Finding missing people quickly usually leads to a better outcome and fewer injuries,” Roberson said. “I’m glad that we were able to get (the missing woman) home safely to her family and very grateful for the other agencies that were willing to lend us a hand in searching the woods to look for her. With this technology, we were able to keep the rescuers safe, too.”

Casey Mann can be reached at


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I believe the technology is FLIR.

Saturday, July 4

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