20-year-old woman found safe after spending night in woods

Clay County woman with diminished mental capacity found after search

By Chris Parenteau - Reporter, Scott Johnson - Reporter, Nick Jones - Digital producer, Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - A 20-year-old woman from Middleburg who prompted an all-out search by multiple agencies after she disappeared Thursday afternoon was found safe Friday morning after spending all night in a wooded area of Clay County, authorities said.

Rachel Knowlton has the mental capacity of a 6-year-old caused by a genetic disorder called Prader-Willi, her family said. 

Deputies had expressed concern about Knowlton's well-being, considering the weather conditions and terrain they were searching.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Deputy Chris Padgett said that when he heard word over his radio Knowlton had been found safe, he got goosebumps.

"It's absolute joy," Padgett said.

He said Knowlton, who was found about 9:30 a.m., was hungry and suffering from exposure to the elements overnight but was otherwise in good health.

Knowlton was found in a heavily wooded ravine near Black Creek in the area of Begonia Drive in Middleburg.

Investigators said they were talking with Knowlton about how she got to the woods, and they do not believe any foul play or suspicious activity was involved in her disappearance.

The Clay County Sheriff's Office had expanded its search Friday morning, using resources from the Florida Highway Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, including K-9s, marine units and more.

“This is teamwork at its finest," Padgett said of the efforts to find Knowlton, including media reports and community assistance. "This could have been prolonged. It could have gone on throughout the day, and no doubt her condition would have worsened."

Knowlton's mother had been the last person to see her around 1 p.m. Wednesday inside their home. The mother notified the Sheriff's Office of her daughter's disappearance around 2 p.m.

This wasn't the first time Knowlton had disappeared. She was reported missing in January but was quickly found. 

Padgett said where she was found Friday was relatively close to where she had been found in January.

Padgett said the Sheriff's Office is working with Knowlton's family on safety measures to prevent her from going missing again.

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