As a helicopter circles overhead, Hope Claiborne and Makenna Rogers hear a grave announcement from a loudspeaker. Their 97-year-old neighbor Glenneta Belford is missing and her safety is feared for on account of her dementia. So, unable to stand by and do nothing, the girls rally their gang together and leap into action.
In October 2019 Belford was living in a residential care center in Roseville, California. And like approximately 50 million other people across the globe, she had dementia. The condition is caused by changes in the brain that affect a person’s memory, behavior, thinking and ability to carry out daily tasks.
There are more than 100 kinds of dementia, including the vascular type which comes from small strokes and dementia caused by Parkinson’s disease. However, the most common form is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for up to 80 percent of all cases. Vascular dementia is the second most common and is caused by tiny bleeds and blood vessel blockages in the brain.
In general, dementia can be defined as a loss of nerve cells which leads to the shrinking of the brain. It is a progressive illness – meaning that symptoms get worse over time. However, the effects of dementia tend to differ from person to person, and they depend on which part of the brain is damaged.
Some of the more common symptoms of dementia include problems with concentrating, planning, visual perception, and day-to-day memories. Sufferers may also experience difficulties with language, along with changes in mood. And one of the most distressing features of dementia for families is when a loved one goes “wandering.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six out of ten people with dementia will wander at some point. This is because people with the disorder can become easily disorientated and may forget their name or address. So, while they may set off with a clear purpose in mind, they can easily become confused.
There are many reasons that people with dementia may wander. They may venture out if they feel agitated, restless or fearful of something. Alternatively, they may simply be bored, or they might embark on previously familiar routes that took them to work or the grocery store.
While not harmful in itself, the tendency to wander can be particularly worrying for the families of dementia patients. Going walkabout can expose those who are already vulnerable to a host of added risks including unfamiliar places, busy roads, harmful weather, and uneven terrain. As a result, roaming can actually put the life of someone with dementia at risk.
In 2018 the Queensland University of Technology in Australia released a study claiming that people with dementia were at greater risk of going missing. The research, called “Dementia-related missing person reports in Australia,” was led by Dr. Margie MacAndrew from the Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration: Carers and Consumers (DCRC-CC).
In the report, which was published in the Australasian Journal on Ageing, MacAndrew outlined some of the problems. She said, “Characteristics of risky wandering include frequent and repetitive walking without resting which can be very tiring. Also walking without knowing where you are and how to get back home without help from another person; in other words, wayfinding problems.”
MacAndrew continued, “Wandering can result in potentially life-threatening outcomes such as malnutrition, increased risk of falls, injury, exhaustion, hypothermia, becoming lost and death. Not all people with dementia who wander become lost but they are much more likely to than their peers who do not have dementia.”
With that in mind, when Belford went missing from her care home in September 2019 in Roseville, California, cops wasted no time in looking for her. The elderly woman is known to hide; so to aid their search, Roseville Police Department reached out to their colleagues in Sacramento, who sent over their helicopter.
Using the chopper, police made loudspeaker announcements above the neighborhood of Roseville appealing to volunteers to help with the search for Belford. They were eager to locate the elderly lady before the night drew in. And by this point, it was already around 4:00 p.m.
The City of Roseville, California Police Department Facebook page then issued an alert regarding the senior citizen’s disappearance. It read, “Please help us locate 97-year-old Glenneta Belford. She suffers from dementia and is mostly non-verbal. Recently, she’s been known to hide or hunker down in a location.”
Furthermore, in October 2019 Roseville Police Department’s public information officer, Rob Baquera, revealed the concern for Belford to the Washington Post. He said, “Because [she] has dementia, there was an urgency to find her before she went off on a trail into the woods or ended up on a street with lots of traffic.”
So given the risks she faced, time was certainly of the essence in the search for Belford. But Makenna Rogers and Hope Claiborne, two children who were hanging out in a local park after school, heard the announcements and immediately understood the urgency of the situation.
Claiborne and Rogers were eager to help look for Belford. So they picked up their bikes and collected reinforcements in the form of the former’s brother Kashton and his buddy Logan Hultman. The foursome then joined the dozens of locals who had also volunteered to look for their elderly neighbor.
As part of their efforts, the four children cruised up and down the streets of their neighborhood looking for Belford. However, their mission was derailed when Clairborne’s brother Logan went speeding down an uneven path on a hill. In October 2019 he told Fox 40 News, “The second bump threw me in the air and I fell off my bike.”
The fall left Logan in need of some minor first aid. As a result, he added, “We came all the way back and my brother patched me up.” The group used this opportunity to grab some dinner; and once Logan was all bandaged up they set out once more in search of Belford.
So that they knew exactly who they were looking for, Claiborne’s dad Daniel sent a photo of Belford to her phone. However, he didn’t think that the foursome were seriously going to find the elderly woman. He told the Washington Post, “I sent them a picture of her and thought, ‘Okay, have fun.’”
However, it seems that Daniel was wrong to doubt the youngsters. He told the Washington Post in October 2019, “They were genuinely determined that they were going to find her.” The foursome scoured playgrounds and parking lots, rustled through bushes and even had a scan of their elementary school. But they had no idea what they were about to find.
By 6:30 p.m. dusk was upon them, and yet the four kids kept looking. That’s when Hope Claiborne noticed something or, to be more precise, someone. The person was a little old lady in a red shirt and white pants; and the child was certain it was Belford. Talking to the Washington Post, she recalled that she told the other kids, “Look! There she is!”
And Logan was in agreement that the gray-haired women they’d spotted nearing a street corner just a few blocks from their homes was Belford. He told the newspaper, “I said, ‘Yes! Guys, that has to be her.’” Elsewhere, Kashton recalled to Fox 40 News, “She was right here and she was walking and she was talking to herself.”
The woman the kids had spotted was indeed Belford. It had been two hours since she’d gone missing, and she had been heading in the direction of one of Roseville’s busiest streets. As a result, the four youngsters were delighted that they had found her before she’d come into harm’s way.
Claiborne told the Washington Post, “I was so excited to find her. We all went over to her and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ She didn’t really understand us and told us to go away.” But still, the kids weren’t put off their good deed. In fact, they kept Belford distracted while Claiborne called 911 to tell cops that the elderly woman had been found.
Explaining how that phone call went down, Claiborne told Fox 40 News, “I called 911 and I said that [I’d] found this missing woman.” And soon, police were soon on the scene to take over from the kids. However, cops made sure that the four youngsters got all the credit they deserved for their part in locating Belford.
Later, officer Rob Baquera told the Washington Post, “The dispatcher was a little surprised to hear a young voice on the line.” However, he added that the four kids had saved the day. The cop said, “What could have been a much larger crisis was diverted by these junior detectives who jumped into action.”
In October 2019 the City of Roseville, California Police Department also paid tribute to the youngsters. It posted a photo of them on Facebook alongside a few paragraphs explaining the search for Belford. It read, “We’d like to give a little praise to our excellent community. Yesterday we posted a notification about a missing 97-year-old female in the Quail Glen / Blue Oaks neighborhoods.”
The post continued, “When our officers arrived on the street, they were overwhelmed by the number of residents out of their houses, looking around the neighborhood. One of the groups that started a ‘junior’ search party was this team, pictured here in the photograph.”
As the tribute to the children continued, it revealed the foursome’s commendable actions. The post read, “As it turns out, they were the team to locate the missing 97-year-old. Our surprised dispatchers took the initial call from this team of junior detectives which helped connect officers to the missing person.”
The police post then talked about how we could all learn a thing or two from the young detectives. It concluded, “This is a great example of our exceptional community coming together to lend a helping hand. This proves a great point, age is just a number and anyone can help out in a time of need.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the heartwarming story of how the four youngsters found Belford proved a hit on social media. The post by the City of Roseville, California Police Department subsequently attracted almost 3,000 reactions and close to 250 comments. And many of the messages congratulated the kids on their noble efforts.
One such message, posted beneath the police Facebook update, read, “What a great story! Way to go junior detectives! It’s amazing what can be accomplished when everybody just helps a little bit.” Meanwhile, another person said, “There is hope yet for the future! Beautiful children! Great job.”
However, the people who were no doubt most proud of the children were the parents themselves. In October 2019 Alyssa Hultman, Logan’s mom, told Good Morning America, “I learned that he and the kiddos were out at the middle school looking. I’m really proud of him. I think it speaks to his character and the type of kid he is.”
In a separate interview with the Washington Post, Alyssa pointed out that kids taking an interest in their community seemed to be a rarity these days. She said, “People are amazed by what they did in a time when so many kids are inside on their phones. Children don’t often play outside anymore.”
Claiborne’s dad Daniel also gushed over his kids, calling them the real-life “Goonies” – a reference to the popular 1980s adventure film of the same name. He told Good Morning America in October 2019, “When they came back home running in, so excited they found her, I got so emotional.”
But even in the face of such praise, the foursome didn’t see what they’d done as anything out of the ordinary. According to Fox 40 News, when Logan’s mother asked him why he and his friends had gone in search of Belford, he simply told her, “Because somebody needed help, mom. And when people need help you go and help them. That’s what we do.”
Likewise, Kashton said his group had simply answered an appeal for help. He told the Washington Post, “The four of us just decided that we could do it.” However, Makenna Rogers had a more profound take on things. She said, “We really wanted to find Belford and prove that kids can make just as big a difference as adults.”
No matter what the kids’ motive may have been, their efforts certainly impressed cop Rob Baquera. He told Good Morning America, “I think this is a perfect example of age not being a factor, kids taking it in their own hands to help a community member in need and doing a great job at helping safely return this missing person.”
What’s more, the foursome’s success in locating Belford meant that Baquera could see a bright future in law enforcement for all of them. He said, “In ten years they should give us a call and we can talk about offering them jobs as police detectives.” But for now, the youngsters will surely be happy in the knowledge that they helped to return Belford safely to her family.