Search for Dennard, Genzlinger are both “unique and challenging”, says Sheriff

RAPID CITY, S.D. – In Pennington County, search and rescue operations have been strained this year in the wake of two expansive searches, one being deemed the most extensive in state history.

Serenity Dennard, 9, walked away from the Black Hills Children’s Home February 3rd. Larry Genzlinger, 66, was last seen hunting south of Deerfield Lake October 1st.

These are two searches that Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom describes as both unique and challenging.

“I think what’s important to understand too is we have two unique cases where people are missing and haven’t been able to find them,” said Thom.

The cases are unique in the sense that the missing are among the minority compared to those who have been found in the county.

“We’re putting together data now on how many people have gone missing in the last five years we’ve done searches,” said Thom. “We find a lot of people.”

Most recently, search and rescue has been involved in a separate search for a hunter who was found in under two hours of being reported lost. Throughout the year, the organization has traveled to Open Cut to help people in Lead, they’ve rescued people in the Badlands after an ATV accident, they’ve been to Falling Rock to respond to a girl who had fallen, and responded in multiple flooding scenarios, among other things.

The challenge in the on-going cases is the duration and impacts on the budget follow suit.

This past year, search and rescue supplemented their budget with $73,000 worth of Title III funds, or federal dollars. Otherwise, moving from Fiscal Year 2019 to 2020, search and rescue’s budget stays fixed.

What may be saving the budget from over-strain is the large number of volunteer hours from dozens of agencies. Because volunteer hours are just that, Sheriff Thom says the impact on savings hasn’t been tallied.

“We have a lot of volunteers, well over 100 volunteers that support the Sheriff’s Office day in and day out and frankly, [we] couldn’t do it without them,” said Thom.

As the searches continue, weather remains the biggest factor. Recent snow has brought the searches to a halt. The varying terrain, however, means different things for each search moving forward.

In the search area near Deerfield, snow has continued, picking up about a foot of snow in some spots which Sheriff Thom says has shut down that search for the time being.

“Of course we still continue to follow some investigative leads just to cover bases and until we get a major change in the weather and get some melt, we could be done there until spring,” said Thom.

Sitting a few thousand feet below in elevation, Rockerville will be revisited Friday by searchers continuing on.

While still weather dependent, Sheriff Thom assures that the searches will continue until they turn the missing into the found.

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