Four years later: looking back at the disappearance of Serenity Dennard
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Friday marks the four-year anniversary of the disappearance of then-9-year-old Serenity Dennard after she ran away from the Black Hills Children’s Home near Rockerville at 11:20 a.m. February 3, 2019. Her disappearance set off a nearly two-year-long search by dozens of agencies, hundreds of members of law enforcement, and thousands of volunteers.
She has still not been found, but the case remains open, and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said they continue to pursue every lead they find.
The original search started late. 911 wasn’t contacted for over an hour after Serenity had left the building, and a later investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Social Services found that the Children’s Home failed to properly follow their own emergency protocols.
The situation was made more urgent by the weather. An unusually warm start to the year came to a quick end on the night of February 3, with temperatures plummeting below 0. Serenity had left without a coat.
When Serenity wasn’t immediately found, the search grew quickly. Within the two months, law enforcement and rescue teams conducted over 180 interviews, deployed over 350 personnel as well as an airplane and helicopter, and partnered with the FBI and various interstate agencies to find her.
As time wore on, severe winter weather in March brought official search efforts to a halt. This inspired a group of local volunteers, many of whom were familiar with the area, to search for themselves.
Kayla Sacca, Serenity’s cousin, started a petition to create a new Serenity Alert which would be used to alert people to missing children that don’t qualify for an Amber Alert, as Amber Alerts only apply when a child is kidnapped. The petition received tens of thousands of signatures, but the idea never gained further traction.
In April, the community held a candlelight vigil in honor of Serenity.
“I do think that’s good for people because there’s a lot of people that have been impacted by this, and it’s a chance to talk and be comforted together,” said Lynne DiSanto, an organizer of the vigil.
Even a year later, Serenity’s family had not given up, putting out messages of hope:
“We will never stop looking, we will never stop fighting. We want you home, we hope that you’re safe, that you’re okay right now. I just want you to know that you’re loved and you’re cherished and we just want you home,” the family said.
Search efforts throughout all this time were both extensive and thorough, but they couldn’t be kept up forever.
On January 28, 2021, the search for Serenity Dennard was called off.
The case remains open. If you have any information about what happened to Serenity, please contact the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office at (605) 394-6115.