A collaborative effort between two local agencies reunited a missing elderly man with his family just before Thanksgiving Day.
On Wednesday evening, the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office was notified by a family that their 75-year-old relative could not be found.
“They contacted us and, we got on it,” said sheriff’s deputy David Whitzel.
Whitzel said he believes the older man, Jose Saenz, went for a walk after Saenz was released from Eastern New Mexico Medical Center Wednesday.
“I guess Eastern released him and he kind of went on a walking journey through all these hayfields,” Whitzel said. “He does have maybe a little bit of dementia or something.”
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The deputy said they were able to locate Saenz by tracking his cellphone.
“He said he was by some tractors in a hayfield and he thought he was way down there on Hobson,” Whitzel said. “We pinged his phone, thanks to Sgt. Ramirez’s quick-thinking.
“(We) started pinging his phone and, he literally, he was walking all over — I mean — we were pinging him probably about every 15 minutes or so, and he walked all the way from 17th Street all the way to Sena Road, and into this field over here.”
Saenz was found in hayfields, near the intersection of East 19th Street and North Red Bridge Road. First-responders rallied just south of Berrendo Creek, near Red Bridge Road.
Sgt. Hector Ramirez of the sheriff’s office told the Daily Record that Whitzel had contacted the Roswell Fire Department to aid in the search. With the assistance of the RFD, which utilized its vehicles to light the path, Saenz was found after a little more than three hours.
“The fire department did a really good job. They were on it,” Ramirez said. “They were the ones that — they started sweeping this whole area. We were actually maybe even going to call a helicopter out to start checking the area.”
If Saenz was released from the hospital and walked to the hayfields, he would have traveled almost 4 miles on foot.
The deputy said the missing man was found in great condition, “strong as an ox.”
“(He was in) great condition,” Whitzel said. “Just — his mind is not as crisp as it used to be.
“I think the sergeant’s persistence in this matter really assisted in the incident.”
Police said Saenz was later taken home by his family.
“Yeah, his family’s right over here,” Whitzel gestured to the Daily Record. “This is their family, too.”
Neighbor Selena Ureta, who considers Saenz family, said she was glad her family acted quickly.
“Because the temperatures kept dropping last night,” Ureta explained Thursday. “I’d like to thank the Chaves County Sheriff’s Department and the Roswell Fire Department for the help in searching for my neighbor that has become family over the years. Throughout the search, the deputies kept in touch with me with any updates and to reassure me that they weren’t giving up until he was found.”
Police and firefighters thanked each other for their help, and wished them a good night.
“Thank God that this gentleman gets to have Thanksgiving,” Whitzel said.
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.