Wisconsin girl found dead after search near homeLaw enforcement, rescue personnel and volunteers searched the area Tuesday night, aided by K-9 units and a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter equipped with an infrared imaging system.
By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune
DANBURY, Wis. — Divers found the body of a missing 3-year-old girl Wednesday in a canal near her home in northwestern Wisconsin.
Burnett County Emergency Management Director Rhonda Reynolds said the lifeless body of Renna Williams was found at about 4:50 p.m. Wednesday about 25 yards from her home in Danbury.
Renna disappeared after apparently wandering away from her home Tuesday evening.
An autopsy is planned.
Scores of law enforcement officers, firefighters, forest rangers and volunteers searched the forests near here Wednesday for the girl.
Williams was reported missing shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday from her family’s home on an island in the Yellow River about one mile south of the unincorporated village of Danbury, about 60 miles south of the Twin Ports.
She was last seen an hour or 90 minutes before she was reported missing, Burnett County Sheriff Dean Roland said Wednesday afternoon.
Officials issued an Amber Alert, and an FBI team responded to the scene, Roland said.
He announced the discovery of the girl’s body at a 6:30 p.m. news conference Wednesday.
By early afternoon, law enforcement officers had been pulled off the search teams to go door-to-door to talk to area residents.
Law enforcement, rescue personnel and volunteers searched the area Tuesday night, aided by K-9 units and a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter equipped with an infrared imaging system. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources searched the St. Croix and Yellow rivers. The ground search was suspended at 2:56 a.m. until it became light.
On Wednesday the number of volunteer searchers had grown dramatically. Eric Haupt of Spooner was among 14 volunteers in a team that lined up along Burnett County Highway F about 11:30 a.m. to search the woods to the east.
“It hits close to home,” Haupt said. “I figure if I had kids, I would want someone to help.”
The team was led by Wisconsin DNR Ranger Kirby Dernovsek, who briefed the team before leading them into the woods in a long line.
“You will be following everyone on your right, walking about 10 feet apart, Dernovsek said. “The thing with search and rescue is you have to follow the grids. We have to walk straight through everything.”
Dernovsek’s team was one of several conducting shoulder-to-shoulder searches for Renna within about a mile of her home, Burnett County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Wilhelm said. The area contains dense forest, swamps, waterways, areas of thick brush and open areas.
“If it was my kid, I would want as many people as possible to show up,” said volunteer searcher Ashley Frye of Spooner, who learned of the search for Renna Williams on Facebook.
All during the ground search, boats were on the water of the river searching, Wilhelm said.
Rhonda Reynolds, Burnett County emergency management director, said search organizers were helped by lessons learned during a missing-person search in the county four years ago. In that search, an autistic man was found alive after being missing seven days.
“They learned a lot from that search, and the need to search shoulder to shoulder,” Reynolds said. “We are doing that slogging search right now.”
Down the line, volunteer Carmen Bugg used a stick to push back grass and ferns for a clear view of spots where a scared or injured child might be hidden.
“After I heard it was a 3-year-old girl missing, I just wanted to come and help to find her,” she said. “My grandson is almost 3.”
As the searchers picked and pushed their way through brush and over, under and among deadfalls, they could hear calls of “Renna” to the south, helicopters overhead and dogs ahead in the distance. After an hour, the teams received radio orders to shift the direction of their search to focus on an area where a dog had hit a strong scent.
But the redirected search failed to find anything.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.