A look inside the ground search for Serenity Dennard
ROCKERVILLE, S.D. — Law enforcement agencies were out again Thursday morning in Rockerville, continuing the search for Serenity Dennard, who went missing Feb. 3 from the Black Hills Children’s home.
Over six months later, countless hours have been spent with over 1000 people from at least 60 collaborating agencies. The search for Serenity Dennard is the most expansive and intricate in state history.
The ground searches are only one aspect to the investigation and pose new challenges each time.
“We’ve been doing them for many months, many searches a month” said Capt. Tony Harrison with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office.
The PCSO meets every week to make a plan. Regardless of tight Rally staffing, searchers made it out Thursday morning, the day with an optimal forecast.
At the break of dawn, multiple law enforcement agencies arrive at the corner of Main Street and South Rockerville Road and gear up for the hours ahead, scouring the hills for Serenity.
As the 30 plus volunteers gather around Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, he thanks them for assisting in the search. “Thank you for being here,” said Thom. “We’ve been at this for six months.”
After a quick briefing, reminding crews of Serenity’s last known description, “blue jeans, black boots, and a grey shirt with flowers on it,” they line up to receive their GPS for the hike.
“Everybody that’s in the field receives a GPS so that it records exactly where they were,” said Shawn Gab, team leader with the Pennington County Search and Rescue. “If, in the end, we find there are gaps, we can make special search sectors and go back out with a smaller team and cover those exact gaps.”
Thursday’s search focused on the area northeast of the children’s home.
Heading into the hills, a caravan followed South Rockerville Road for about two miles before taking a dirt road southeast for another mile. From there, working south. The children’s home, roughly two miles away from the start of the hike.
Awaiting the 30 plus searchers were two dog teams from the Northern Hills Wolfpack and Gail Schmidt, chief of the Rockerville Volunteer Fire Department; Schmidt putting boots on the ground for a 40th day.
Before lining up to comb the hills, anyone nearby can hear “today’s the day” come from many searchers. “We start with enthusiasm and hope so we’re starting with that same enthusiasm today,” said Thom.
A total of 39 searchers lined up, three to four feet apart. The thick vegetation requires a closer march.
“We’ll have to be in a really tight line this morning, walking wingspan to wingspan because of the area we’re searching,” said Thom.
The grass rises up to searchers’ knees, posing a much different challenge than the landscape six months prior. On this August day, crews came across four snakes.
As they walk, Schmidt offers reminders to those in line. “Check under the bushes,” said Schmidt. “You’re looking for something as small as a milk jug.”
The cadaver dogs continue to pick up on scents which guide the searches in the hopes of narrowing Serenity’s whereabouts.
“We’re going to have a tendency to miss a spot and that’s where she might be then this is all for not,” said Chief Deputy Brian Mueller with the PCSO, as they walk through rugged terrain. “Go slow and stay in a straight line.”
After a roughly three hour search, Serenity was not found but hope does not waiver among the searchers.
“It’s going to continue until we find her,” said Harrison. “We are committed to finding her.”
Thursday’s hike consisted of members of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, Rapid City Police Department, Pennington County Search and Rescue, Rockerville Volunteer Fire Department, and the Northern Hills Wolfpack.
As for the rest of the investigation, the PCSO says they’ve executed multiple search warrants and continue to follow up on every lead.