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Stone County shines in rescue operation

Stone County Enterprise of Wiggins, Mississippi

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A potentially tragic situation ended happily Monday when searchers found 69-year-old T.J. Hughes alive and well in woods between Flint Creek and Pump Branch.

Hughes, a resident of Liberty, had been missing and presumed to be in those woods since Saturday afternoon.

"We received a call from a homeowner that an older black male had wandered into his yard and appeared disoriented," Stone County Sheriff Department Chfef Deputy Phyllis Olds said. "The man then walked off and into some nearby woods."

Deputies responded to the call and couldn't find the man, later identified as Hughes, so they contacted Wiggins Fire Department Assistant

Chief Allen Ray Hatten.

"At approximately 3:30 p.m., we decided we needed to initiate a search effort," Olds said.

Hughes truck was later found on Hwy. 49, where it had broken down.

Hughes had called a brother seeking assistance and had made it to the Chevron in Bond where he waited nearly two hours before he took off walking.

He suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and other medical conditions.

"Something happened in his mind and he started walking," Olds said. "Family members told us this wasn't the first time he had suffered what appeared to be a blackout and wandered off.

His nephew, Cedric Graham, said Hughes sometimes went into a survival mode and reverted to training he had received in the military.

Once night fell Saturday, searchers called off their efforts until 6 a.m. Sunday.

"The woods in that area are very thick and filled with underbrush," Olds said. "Snakes are moving this time of year and that area is full of branches and gullies that stay filled with water.

"We didn't want people moving through there at night and us ending up with two victims instead of one."

Once the search resumed Sunday, it was joined by helicopters from the Mississippi High Patrol and the Air National Guard out of Gulfport.

"Sunday was when it really escalated," Olds said. "We ultimately had 21 agencies involved with about 50 people and two command posts.

Dog teams from Mississippi and Louisiana were scouring the woods, along with searchers on foot, on horses and on four-wheelers.

It was thought the mechanized search vehicles may have been scaring Hughes and keeping him from revealing his whereabouts.

The search was once again suspended at sundown Sunday.

"We put up a helicopter first thing Monday morning before anybody had gone into the woods," Olds said. "Finally, they spotted him, hovered over the spot and relayed GPS information and directed searchers to him."

Hughes, while dehydrated, was in relatively good shape.

He was given fluids and transported to Stone County Hospital.

Graham informed Olds on Tuesday that a slot for Hughes had been found with the Veterans' Administration and he was expected to be admitted to an Alzheimer's patients unit.

Graham had praised the efforts of searchers and the compassion of the community while his family anxiously awaited word on their loved one.

"This community has been amazing in their compassion and support," he said. "Food has been pouring in to feed the searchers and people have been stopping by asking if they can help and letting us know they've been praying.

"I don't think we could ask for a better response in this kind of situation."

The search for Hughes captured the attention, and the volunteerism, of the entire Stone County community.

There were more than 41,000 views of online stories and community members came through with food, water and ice.

"The community was awesome," Olds said. "One couple left church and brought 15 pizzas and two containers of iced water."

Pizza Inn, Popeye's Fried Chicken, Wards and Piggly Wiggly all donated prepared food for the search teams.

The Chevron Curb Store donated sandwich materials.

The following is a list of agencies that were called to assist in the search:

Forrest County Sheriff's Department; Carnes Fire Department; Overland Search and Rescue Specialists from Pascagoula Fire Department; Biloxi Fire Department; D'Iberville Fire Department; Gulfport Fire Department and Harrison County Fire Service; Mississippi Emergency Management Agency;

Mississippi Bureau of Investigation; Mississippi Highway Patrol Special Operations Group; MHP Helicopter; Rescue 7 Helicopter; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks; Gulf Coast Search and Rescue K-9; Louisiana Search and Rescue K-9; Stone County Ambulance Service; local citizens with horses.

Olds said she would like to see new technology developed to assist in keeping track of those who suffer from Alzheimer's and dementia.

"We put chips in our dogs so they can be identified, why can't we develop a technology that would allow us to track Alzheimer's patients?" she asked.

She also said those who encounter individuals who appear to be disoriented should attempt to engage them and get them to stay put until help can be summoned.

"Take five minutes and talk to them," she said. "Try to imagine if that was one of your loved ones, you'd want someone to make the effort to try to keep them from wandering away."

"This community has been amazing in their compassion and support....,”

Cedric Graham Nephew of T. X Hughes

Copyright 2015 Stone County Enterprise, Wiggins, Mississippi. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: August 26, 2015

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