Missing Couple

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 28, 2008

Candy Bell (standing) consoles her mother Sue Bell Tuesday afternoon in Como as authorities search for Sue’s missing parents, Benny Ray and Viola Brooks. Officials later learned the missing couple arrived safely at their destination in Philadelphia, Miss. The Panolian photo by Jason C. Mattox

‘Missing’ parents’ reached destination

By Jason C. Mattox

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A nearly three hour search for a missing elderly couple was called off when word reached law enforcement officers in Como that they had arrived safely at their destination in Philadelphia, Miss.

Bennie Ray Brooks and Viola Brooks, both in their 70s and suffering from Alzheimer’s, were reported missing between 10 and 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning by their son-in-law Richard Bell.

According to officer Earl Burdette of the Como Police Department, the Brooks and Bell families were traveling from Truman, Ark., to Philadelphia to spend Thanksgiving.

Investigator Mark Whitten of the Panola S.O. said Viola Brooks has advanced stage Alzheimer’s while her husband is suffering from signs of early or middle stage Alzheimer’s.

“We had an unconfirmed sighting of them getting off I-55 at Como and going west,” Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright said from the mobile command center that was set up across from the Como United Methodist Church.

“When the call came into our office, I sent investigators and deputies down to get the facts on the situation,” Bright said.

More than 20 law enforcement officers from the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and the Como Police Department spent several hours in Como hoping to find the elderly couple.

Word of the missing persons spread throughout Panola County as television news crews from Memphis broadcast initial reports.

“News crews are always an unofficial sixth man in a search,” Burdette said. “People will see the information and watch out for the missing persons.”

In addition to news crews, Bright said he had issued a BOLO across the state for the couple’s silver Ford Taurus.

Authorities at the scene also notified law enforcement in Truman, Ark., to have the missing couple’s home watched in case they returned home. The Bell family contacted family members in Philadelphia in case the couple continued on to the destination.

Whitten said the couple had no cell phone.

“My advice to any elderly couple, especially with Alzheimer’s or dementia, is to always carry a cell phone,” he said. “That way, even if we can’t call you, the chip in the phone could be used to pinpoint their position.”

Just as Bright was preparing a pot of coffee in preparation for a long afternoon and possibly evening search, word came that the couple had arrived safely at their destination.

“This was a long few hours for the family, but it ended well and we are glad we could do what we could to help,” Bright said.