Search and rescue team joins hunt for woman

Saturday, September 7, 2002

BERNIE, Mo. -- Being proactive, not reactive, Stoddard County chief deputy Rick Cook Thursday expressed his concern for the fate of 50-year-old Bernie resident Claudia Sneed, who was reported missing by her family late Monday night.

Wednesday afternoon a technical rescue team from St. Louis was called to join the search for the missing woman. The eight-person unit along with three canines specially trained to track people arrived in Bernie around noon Thursday and were briefed by local authorities before the dogs were brought in.

According to Cook, the Stoddard County Sheriff's Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol with cooperation from the Bernie Police Department had completed two walking and two flyover grid searches of the area surrounding Sneed's residence on Park Lane, south of Bernie.

Cook said Sneed is being listed as an official missing person, but the unusual circumstances of her disappearance have drawn a number of law enforcement officials -- five or six on Wednesday -- investigating the case.

"There is no evidence of foul play, but it seems unusual that she would leave behind everything. The only thing that appears to be missing is the woman," Cook said.

"We're not ruling out anything at this time," he added. "We're checking all leads. Now, we're checking rumors of leads, too. We just don't have much to go on. That's the problem."

An unidentified neighbor said he last saw Sneed Saturday walking to and from a nearby convenience store "a couple times."

Cook said the family has reported Sneed missing at least one time in the past. She "just turned up" in that instance, he commented.

However, this time the family has contacted all Sneed's known acquaintances with no word on the whereabouts of their mother.

What concerns the family, and himself, Cook said, was the fact that Sneed used a prescription inhaler and was unable to walk for long distances.

"We don't know if she had an inhaler with her or not. She may have two or three and we don't know about it," he stated.

The search and rescue team brought in Thursday had their work cut out for them with several salvage yards and vacant storage trailers in the general vicinity of Sneed's residence, a small residential area tucked on the west side of Highway 25, just south of Bernie.

The teams began their search by reconnoitering the area on an ATV in order to determine where to place people and how to cover the area. Using a global positioning system to set a grid, three teams accompanied by tracking dogs began working the area around mid-afternoon.

Their biggest challenge would be in the salvage yards, according to Cook.

"We've checked every car and trailer in the area, but haven't checked trunks," he said.

One of the first locations to be examined was a storage trailer located behind Carter's Furniture where owner Judy Carter reported she had detected an unpleasant odor. Upon initial search with the K-9 unit, nothing was discovered.

Cook said he expected the search and rescue team to remain on the scene at least through early evening or "until we discover something."

Bill Albright, one of the St. Louis team's members, said the unit would stay until they find something or rule out the possibility of finding Sneed.

"I hope we don't find anything with the dogs," Cook said, alluding to the worst case scenario. "I hope we get a call that she's with friends."

While there is no evidence of foul play, Cook said nothing is being ruled out.

"It's just a strange, unusual situation," he said.

As of press time Friday morning, nothing has changed regarding the search. According to a Sheriff's Department spokesman, the search and rescue team remains on the scene.

Anyone with information regarding Sneed's whereabouts, or having seen her since Friday, Aug. 30, is asked to contact the Stoddard County Sheriff's Department, 573-568-4654.

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