South Dakota children's facility staff called 911 later than initially reported after girl went missing
ROCKERVILLE, S.D. - After a girl ran away from a residential youth home last Sunday, staff at the rural Pennington County facility called 911 more than one and a half hours after she went missing.
The timeline of 9-year-old Serenity Dennard's disappearance was confirmed by Helene Duhamel, spokeswoman with the Pennington County Sheriff's Office, and Bill Colson, executive director of the Children's Home Society, which runs the Black Hills Children's Home near Rockerville.
The girl disappeared around 10:45 a.m. on Feb. 3. from the facility about 12 miles southwest of Rapid City.
"We have been reviewing the events of Sunday and have confirmed that the 911 call was placed at 12:26," Colson wrote in an email on Thursday. "When Serenity left staff sight on Sunday, we immediately conducted a thorough search of our grounds and buildings. When we were unable to find Serenity we called law enforcement."
Colson initially said on Monday that Dennard ran away before noon and staff called 911 "right away."
While dozens of people on social media have been asking why the staff didn't call 911 sooner, Duhamel said there's no one right time to call police in a situation like this.
"There is no set standard for how long people should wait before they call for help. It's case by case with a lot of variables," she said.
After Children's Home staff called 911 at 12:26 p.m., Duhamel said, a deputy arrived on scene by 12:45 p.m. By 1:16 p.m., four deputies were on site. At 1:28 they requested assistance from Pennington County Search and Rescue.
Investigators later determined that someone heading to the Children's Home around 11 a.m. was probably the last to see Dennard, Duhamel said. She was near the cattle guard in front of the Children's Home and heading north on South Rockerville Road.
Dennard went missing around 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning when she ran away from the Children's Home while playing inside the facility's gym, Colson previously said. Dennard and three other children were being supervised by two staff members when one of the other children ran away but stayed inside the building. As a staffer ran after that child, Dennard then took off herself, running outside. Because the remaining staff member was still supervising two other children, the staffer stayed put and called for help rather than follow Dennard and leave the others behind. Staff then searched for Dennard before calling 911.
Deputies remain stationed at the Children's Home but have not been using dogs to search for her since Tuesday, Duhamel said. Five investigators are dedicated to this case and are following leads about Dennard's disappearance. Searching resumed Friday with dogs from Pennington County Search and Rescue and other canines are expected to arrive Saturday.
"The cold and snow are factors that still impact the search and the searchers, but we wanted to get back out there as soon as possible," Duhamel said.
Dennard remains missing and is presumed dead if she stayed out in the woods, the sheriff's office has said.