MADISON, Miss. (WLBT) - An hours-long search effort for a missing Madison man dealing with dementia came to an end after a Madison Central High School student found him.
In late October, 17-year-old Katie Qualls was winding down for the night and was on Facebook when she came across a post on her neighborhood’s page, alerting residents about an elderly man that wandered away from his home and had been missing for several hours.
Qualls and her family were concerned about his well-being and feared he wouldn’t fare well in the frigid temperatures outside.
“I immediately went to my parents and was like, ‘I’m not going to be able to go to sleep until this person is found,’” Qualls said. “I was just thinking about if that was my grandfather or somebody. It just didn’t sit right with me.”
Qualls approached her parents again about joining the search efforts and went on to layer up and brave the cold temperatures outside.
Search efforts to find the missing elderly man took place on the ground and in the air.
Qualls said the Cypress Lake community hit the pavement looking for him, and Madison first responders had ongoing patrols, as well as a helicopter with thermal imaging capabilities.
While most of the crowd canvassed the neighborhood and nearby wooded area, Qualls decided to take another path.
“The house I usually go to, their door was locked, and it’s never locked,” Qualls said. “So, I walked around and I’m feeling like this is good. I hear something, I turn to my left and he’s laying on the floor on his side, backed up into the bushes. He blended in with the mulch, so you wouldn’t have seen him unless you actually walked into the bushes.”
Qualls immediately tried to comfort the man by reminding him that they knew each other, but he was confused about who she was and told her he was an innocent man and asked her not to hurt him.
“I was like, ‘I’m here to help you, I know your son, I know your grandkids,’” Qualls said. “I don’t know how I picked him up but I picked his whole body up and carried him out.”
Once she alerted police that she found him, he was put into a cruiser to stay warm and Qualls was right there beside him, continuing to comfort him until he was reunited with his family.
Qualls arrived at his house and the man’s wife thanked her for finding her husband.
She later returned home and began to wind down for the night but found it difficult to go to sleep because of all the adrenaline from the search efforts.
While lying down and replaying the night in her head, she had an epiphany.
“I realized it was just all God,” Qualls said. “He led me there. I truly believe He made that happen for a reason. With all the stuff that’s happened in my life recently, I feel like He has a plan for me and I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s going to be helping people.”
At last check, the Qualls family said the man was doing well and Katie plans to visit him in the future.