Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman had a sinking feeling late Monday as a massive all-day search for a missing 76-year-old woman with dementia and her 5-year-old great-grandson had turned up no clues.
Ahead of an approaching storm, the command post moved from rural Elk Shoals Church Loop near Stony Point, about 50 miles north of Charlotte, to the Sheriff’s Office in Taylorsville. With darkness coming on, Bowman worried about the effectiveness of a search that included a helicopter and more than 50 people combing roadsides and wooded areas.
But a phone call that came in around 6:30 p.m. led to information that confirmed the woman and child had stopped at a grocery store in Iredell County at 12:30 p.m. And about 8 p.m., Bowman got the call he’d been hoping for all day: The missing Mary Ann Yoder and Dustin Byers had been located safe at a truck stop off Interstate 40 in Davie County.
“We’re very fortunate they were both found safe,” Bowman said Tuesday. “It was a big relief for me and all the personnel and departments who’d been out working. I’m glad for a good ending to this potentially tragic situation.”
Yoder was apparently lost and Bowman said investigators were following up on the case to determine the circumstances.
He said he didn’t foresee any criminal charges resulting from the incident.
Bowman said Yoder, who lives on Elk Shoals Church Loop in the Stony Point community, had gone to her son’s house at 5:30 a.m. Monday and stayed with the great-grandson until it was time to drop him off at Stony Point Elementary School, as she usually does.
Dustin and Yoder never showed up at school.
Bowman said the search involved law enforcement, emergency services personnel and volunteers concentrating on a seven-mile radius of the great-grandson’s home.
Meanwhile, in the Iredell County town of Harmony, about 22 miles northeast of Stony Point, Sheri Plyler saw an older woman and small boy enter Barker’s Log Cabin Grocery.
“I thought it was a grandmother taking her grandson out,” said Plyler, who is the grocery’s assistant manager.
She said the woman, who seemed confused, bought $10 worth of gas along with a Beanie Baby puppy and Pepsi which she gave to the child.
“She didn’t have enough cash and said she’d have to write a check,” Plyler said. “I had to run it through EFT (electronic fund transfer) and she remembered her driver’s license number.”
The woman asked for directions to Stony Point in Alexander County, but she and Plyler got distracted.
“She forgot and I forgot,” Plyler said. “They left but I didn’t see in what direction.”
When Plyler got off work, she learned about a Silver Alert for an Alexander County woman and child and saw their photos online. Police said the missing pair might have a small brown dog with them.
Plyler remembered that when the woman at the grocery opened the door of a Toyota 4Runner “a little brown dog jumped out.”
“That’s when I knew it was them,” she said.
After her boss, Joe Barker, alerted Alexander County authorities, deputies watched a surveillance video of Yoder and her great-grandson taken at the grocery.
Chief Deputy J.D. Hartman with the Davie County Sheriff’s Office said employees at a truck stop on Highway 601 off I-40 reported the woman and child were there.
“They were discovered in the restaurant, having a bite of supper,” he said. “She’d asked folks at the truck stop for directions.”
Yoder’s daughter, Ann Hartness, said her mother suffers from mild dementia and doesn’t drive outside Alexander County. She’s taken Dustin to school all year with no problems, “but she won’t be doing that anymore,” Hartness said.
Yoder explained to her daughter that on Monday she’d had a wreck, but didn’t remember where. From that point on, she was driving around trying to get home, again not remembering where she’d been.
“We were scared,” Hartness said. “We didn’t know what had happened.”
When Hartness found her mother at the truck stop Monday night her first words were, “What are you doing here?”
“We felt relief,” Hartness said. “We’re thankful for everybody who participated in the search.”