Searchers Hope Candy Will Lure Severely Autistic Hiker Out of West Virginia Wilderness
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Shouting promises of candy and other food, search crews hope to lure a missing autistic hiker out of the woods.
Hundreds of rescuers have been combing the Dolly Sods Wilderness area since Sunday searching for Jacob Allen, 18, who wandered away from his parents, Jim and Karen Allen of Morgantown, while hiking on the Boar's Nest Trail.
On Tuesday, rescuers hollered for Allen, who is essentially nonverbal, then paused, hoping to hear a rustle of leaves signaling his approach.
Search crews have been concerned about temperatures, which have dipped as low as 38 degrees, but hypothermia should not be an issue provided Allen stays dry, said Chris Stadelman, the public information officer for the search command post near Davis. So far, there has been no rain but there is a slight chance of showers over the next couple of days.
Allen was wearing hiking boots, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a wind jacket and wind pants. His hat was found Monday, near the area where he was last seen.
He had no food or water with him, but Stadelman said there are natural water sources in the search area, which consists of about 10 square miles of often steep and brush-covered terrain.
There is no way of telling how Allen — who has the mental capacity of a 3- or 4-year-old — might react in this situation, said Stadelman.
"Obviously this is something none of us has ever been through and certainly Jacob hasn't either," he said.
More than 300 volunteers and trained rescuers were involved in Tuesday's search. Jim and Karen Allen went out several times with rescue crews but stayed only for brief periods so they could be ready to go to their son when needed, said Stadelman.
"We don't want them to be far away when we find him," he said. "We want to get them to him as quickly as possible."
The couple brought their son's pillowcase for rescue dogs to sniff, hoping the animals could pick up his scent. Helicopters are also being used in the search.
Stadelman said the search effort would probably be scaled back somewhat after dark Tuesday, but expected it to continue all night.
On Monday night, crews of about 45 people combed the trails in the Randolph County section of the wilderness area, which is in the Monongahela National Forest, deliberately lighting campfires to make themselves visible in case Jacob Allen was nearby.
While Allen is described as severely autistic by his mother, Stadelman said, he is in good physical shape and likes to hike. The family visits Dolly Sods a couple times a year, Stadelman said.
While the Allens have declined to speak directly with reporters, Jim Allen released a statement Tuesday thanking the community for the "outpouring of support."
"We just appreciate it all so much and thank them for their participation and their prayers and we ask that they continue praying."