New tools help Baker County deputies respond to calls for missing people with autism, dementia

BAKER COUNTY, Fla. – In 2014, a Baker County 8-year-old with autism, Peyton Blodgett, disappeared on a Saturday in October. He was missing for nearly 50 hours until rescuers from the Baker County Sheriff’s Office found him safe that Monday.

Baker County Sheriff Scotty Rhoden said that story will never leave his mind.

“That was a terrible case. Many, many days of sitting here wondering if the child’s going to be found alive,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office has now adapted and received many tools to help in similar cases. The tools are part of Project Lifesaver and the Bringing the Lost Home campaign.

The tools -- all results of a grant the Sheriff’s Office applied for -- are to help people who have autism, dementia and other neurological conditions that could cause someone to wander away without reason.

Rhoden wants to make sure everyone in Baker County is safe, especially the most vulnerable.

One tool the Sheriff’s Office can use is a tracking wristband that helps police know where the vulnerable are if they ever wander.

Another tool is scent kits, which contain a scent pad that is rubbed on someone who has the potential to wander. The remaining scent pad is then given to law enforcement and the Sheriff’s Office scent-tracking K-9 puts it to use.

“That K-9 would go to the scent kit and it would distinctively get the scent placed in the kit and that dog would actually track the scent,” Rhoden said.

The Sheriff’s Office bought the kits and K-9 “Beta” with money from a grant they applied for through Baker County Emergency Management.

Beta’s Handler, Deputy Thomas Dyal, said the K-9 has already had two finds, and she’s just a little less than 2 years old.

“She smells a scent, she stays on that scent,” Dyal said.

The Sheriff said he wants people who know someone with disorders like autism to know that law enforcement is there to help them.

“We want to make it better because it gives people a sense of peace,” Rhoden said.

He thinks if all of these resources were available in 2014 when Blodgett wandered into the woods, deputies could have found him within hours, instead of days.

The Sheriff’s Office also has stickers available for your car that say, “Possible occupant with autism.”

They are meant to let law enforcement know the person in the vehicle could react differently when approached.

If you live in Baker County and have someone who you feel needs these tools or kits, you can pick them up at the Sheriff’s Office at 1 Sheriff’s Office Drive in Macclenny.

About the Author:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.