PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, Va. -- A 69-year-old woman missing for more than a week was found alive Monday morning in the woods less than a mile from her home in rural Prince Edward County.
Aletha Gee Walton, who is from the Keysville/ Meherrin area of the county, was last seen by a family member on Sunday, May 15, Prince Edward County Sheriff L.A. “Tony” Epps said.
Crews had been searching for Walton near her Meherrin home since she was reported missing Tuesday. Epps said Walton was found alive about 0.8 of a mile from her home in a densely wooded pine forest with a thick underbrush just after 10:50 a.m. Monday.
"Thank Jesus. It was a big blessing, it really was," Rita Allen, a friend, said.
“This has been incredibly challenging, but we are thrilled to be able to provide the family the best possible outcome," Epps. said. "I have spoken with the family and they relayed their appreciation to everyone involved in the search for their loved one.”
Family and friends of Walton are breathing a sigh of relief after she was safely found.
"I was so glad it was a happy ending. At first, I didn't know what to think, I was thinking of the worst. But when they said she was okay, I was so thankful, so thankful," Deidra Knight, Walton's niece said.
Walton's family said the woman suffers from the early stages of dementia.
"We just broke down and cried, all of us. We didn't know what to think. We thought somebody had kidnapped her or whatever. We didn't know what had happened," Sandra Knight, Walton's sister, said.
Gone from her home for more than a week in extreme heat and stormy weather, her family said she was sitting on a stump and singing Amazing Grace when she was discovered.
"Amazing Grace. God was with her the whole time," Sandra said.
Officials said she was checked out by EMS personnel from Meherrin Volunteer Fire & Rescue and transported to Centra Southside Community Hospital for further evaluation.
Epps said search teams with K-9s from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Virginia State Police, Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office, Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office, Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia Search and Rescue Dogs looked for the woman.
Epps said finding Walton "took the combined efforts of today’s searchers and all of the ground and air support we have had from the beginning."
"Over the weekend and all of last week, personnel from numerous state agencies including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Corrections, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Law Enforcement Division, and the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation were involved in the search," Epps said. "The Virginia State Police Aviation Division provided air support, as did Doug Jackson, a private aircraft owner and pilot.”
The Sheriff’s Office was also supported by trained search and rescue personnel through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management Search & Rescue Program – Piedmont Search & Rescue, K9 Alert, Blue & Grey Search Dogs, Blacksburg Rescue Squad, Virginia Search & Rescue Dogs, Christian Aid Ministries, Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue Group, Tidewater Search & Rescue, and Commonwealth Search & Rescue.
Nearly 70 first responders from Prince Edward, Charlotte, Lunenburg and Rockingham Counties representing the Meherrin, Hampden-Sydney, Darlington Heights, Rice, Kenbridge, Keysville, Victoria, Drakes Branch and Charlotte Court House Volunteer Fire Departments, Prince Edward Volunteer Rescue Squad and Rockingham County Fire & Rescue were on the ground all day Sunday.
The sheriff’s office search was supported by Prince Edward County Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Epps said.
Walton's safe return is a miracle that her friends and family say they are all thankful for.
"So everybody can take a deep breath and thank God, he's good all the time," Allen said.
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