A three-month-long search for a little girl who apparently walked away from a South Dakota children's home in February has taken a dramatic turn. And the news is not what anyone had hoped to hear.
"Authorities in South Dakota said multiple dog teams have picked up a cadaver scent near where a 9-year-old girl vanished months earlier.
"Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said canines detected the scent in the area surrounding the Black Hills Children’s Home, where Serenity Dennard reportedly ran away from on February 3."
This development doesn't necessarily mean that searchers are on the verge of locating Serenity or her body, however.
"Despite the possible lead, KOTA reported that treacherous weather conditions have and continue to hinder search efforts.
Further, Thom noted that "cadavers can’t differentiate between one deceased body or another, meaning they could be in pursuit of someone other than Dennard. Cold weather and rain can also decrease the rate of decomposition, hampering their search effort.
“Obviously that would complicate it if we found a body that we didn’t know was out there. That would complicate the issue, but we would still continue searching for Serenity as well,” he told the news station.
If you’ve been following the story about little Serenity, then you know that authorities believe the nine-year-old left on her own accord from the South Dakota children’s home where she had been living. You also must realize that the longer she’s gone, the worse her chances become.
“Serenity Dennard walked away from the Black Hills Home Society in the Rockerville area and if she’s been outside the entire time since going missing, she’s likely dead," the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office told KELO on February sixth, four days after she vanished.
KOTA News reports, “Serenity Dennard is a nine-year-old Caucasian female, 4 foot 7 inches, 96 pounds, with blue eyes and shoulder length dark blonde hair.
“She was wearing only a long-sleeved grey shirt with flowers, blue jeans, and black snow boots--no coat.
"The last sighting of Serenity was on the day she disappeared, February third. Two people in a parking lot reportedly saw Dennard running north of South Rockerville Road.
"They went to the children’s home and informed staff before heading back to South Rockerville Road. However, there was no sign of the 9-year-old upon their return, according to reports."
Days after Dennard’s disappearance, authorities classified their search a recovery mission as it’s unlikely the missing girl survived freezing temperatures for an extended period of time.
“People think you should be able to just walk in and find her if she is in the woods and it’s not quite that simple,” Thom said. “The terrain is very rough, she’s a small child, she could be in a very small area so it just takes a very systematic process and the other question is, again, if she is in the woods, how far did she go?”
Now, almost three months later, with still no sign of the nine-year-old, the chances for a good outcome is even grimmer. Investigators are bracing themselves for the worst. If she has, indeed, been outdoors the entire time she couldn't possibly have survived.
“However they have not ruled out the possibility she could still be alive in a warm shelter or was picked up by someone.”
And that is the hope they are clinging to during the grueling rescue/recovery effort. The harsh Dakota winter weather and arctic temperatures are making their job extremely challenging, if not impossible. They have had to suspend the search on more than one occasion.
“The effort officially transitioned from a search-and-rescue to recovery on Wednesday [February 6th], the sheriff’s office told KEVN. But they’re NOT saying they are giving up.
At the same time, “the Sheriff stressed that someone could have picked her up or she could have made it to an indoor location on her own and that she could still be alive.”
And that’s what we continue to hope. Please pray that Serenity has found her way into the arms of loving, caring people and that she will be found one day very soon.
Authorities are still asking the public to be on the lookout for little Serenity and, if they have any information that might be helpful in the investigation, to call the sheriff's office at 605-394-6115.