An autistic teenage girl who was reported missing Wednesday morning was found safe about 5 miles from her home after a 15-hour search, according to Douglas County Sheriff Tim Pounds.
Pounds said 13-year-old Trinity Sarah Lopez was found around 10:15 p.m. Wednesday by Deputy Tommy Smith. Pounds said the girl’s parents reported her missing around 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Pounds said Lopez was lying in a ditch with her head covered up when Smith found her about 10 to 20 feet into woods along a fence at Kings Highway and Ridge Way.
Pounds said he was part of a group of about 25 searching when Lopez was found and he asked her why she left.
“She didn’t know why,” Pounds said. “She said she didn’t have any problems at home.”
Pounds said Lopez suffered from dehydration. She was reunited with her parents at the scene, and they rode with her in an ambulance to the hospital to be checked out.
“I really don’t have any words for it but dad cried like a baby, hugged the child just as tight as he could,” Pounds said. “He told her loved her, he told her he missed her. He asked her why she did it. She didn’t give him an answer either.”
Sgt. Jesse Hambrick said Lopez was last physically seen by her parents at 9 p.m. Tuesday night when she went to bed. The parents checked her bedroom door at 2 a.m. Wednesday and it was closed, but Hambrick said it’s unknown if Lopez was in her room at that time.
Pounds said the family had a nice dinner Tuesday night and had ice cream for dessert before Lopez went to bed.
Lopez’s parents reported her missing when they went to get her up for school Wednesday morning and realized she was gone.
She left home on her lime green bicycle and a Be On the Lookout (BOLO) was issued by the sheriff’s office around noon Wednesday. Pounds said the DCSO “had a ton of different agencies assisting us” and that the woods all around Lopez’s house off Dorsett Shoals Road at Yeager Road were searched.
Pounds said Lopez’s bike was located near Yeager Middle School just before dark Wednesday and that she was found not far from her bike.
Pounds said Lopez told him she left in the middle of the night.
“She said she stayed in the woods the entire day,” Pounds said. “So I think she was deliberately trying to hide.”
After her bike was found, Pounds said a chopper was brought in with heat sensors to try to locate Lopez.
“This is the sad part about it: She could hear the chopper, she could hear us talking,” Pounds said. “She wasn’t 20 feet in the woods. But she wouldn’t come out.”
Pounds said he was really worried about her, particularly because of the hot temperatures Wednesday.
But the sheriff said the efforts of 100 people looking for the teen all day ultimately paid off with the best possible outcome.
“It was a great success,” Pounds said.