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Tortoise found after being missing for two weeks

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Angel Mjelleli with her Sulcata Tortoise Dusty, who is pictured eating an apple in his igloo at the home of Shana Emmert just outside of Roswell Monday. Dusty had gone missing two weeks ago after escaping from Emmert’s yard. His escape and the search for him made national headlines. (Alex Ross Photo)

Dusty, the 100-pound Sulcata tortoise who went missing after escaping from an enclosed backyard just outside of Roswell — making national headlines in the process — has been found.

He was discovered Saturday on a farm about a mile away from the yard he had escaped from.

“He is my baby, I was freaking out, I honestly didn’t think I was going to see him again,” Angel Mjelleli, Dusty’s owner, said Monday.

A woman called Shana Emmert — Mjelleli’s aunt — Saturday at about 2:30 p.m. and told her Dusty had been found. Emmert and her husband then went to identify him and bring him back.

It was Emmert’s yard from which Dusty originally escaped.

The woman who called said Dusty had been found roaming around on her farm, that he was fine and they could come get him whenever they wanted.

The woman who found Dusty couldn’t be reached before the Roswell Daily Record went to press Monday.

Mjelleli, who lives in Clovis, was then informed by Emmert that Dusty was found.

Mjelleli has had the 19-year-old tortoise since he was a hatchling. He went missing from Emmert’s yard on Ranchito Drive Feb. 17 after a gust of wind blew open the gate.

People had seen the determined tortoise plod along, but did not know he had been kept in Emmert’s yard, and so did not inform her. She heard hours later about the sightings of Dusty.

On the farm where Dusty was found to have dug a hole five feet deep, “he made a little house, and what I believe is that he was probably in there hiding when it was cold and maybe grazed and maybe burrowed right back in,” Mjelleli said.

Emmert said the woman who called told her she was not aware Dusty was missing. She is not on social media and does not watch the news and hadn’t read the local paper. After she found Dusty on her property, the woman took videos and photos and texted them to relatives and friends, Emmert said.

A friend in Arizona eventually texted the woman back and identified the headline-grabbing tortoise.

Dusty’s disappearance prompted interest throughout Roswell and beyond. Local media outlets picked it up, and the story soon was picked up by other newspapers and TV stations throughout the country, along with the Associated Press.

Facebook posts about Dusty attracted people’s interest. Emmert said some people said they would have been more surprised to see a tortoise roaming around Roswell then they would an actual alien.

For Mjelleli, Emmert and others, the two weeks Dusty was gone were times of trial, as they waited to hear about him and braced for the worst. Mjelleli, who is engaged, had a wedding to plan and she said that while Dusty was missing she was so distraught that she did not even want to talk to anyone.

Emmert said she received calls from people she knows, as well as complete strangers from far away, asking if Dusty had been found or for more information about him.

Mjelleli said she was thankful for the outpouring of support from neighbors friends and strangers who made an effort to help find Dusty.

Mjelleli and Emmert would ask to search neighbors’ yards in hopes of finding Dusty. In some cases whole families would turn out for search parties designed to track Dusty down. Emmert said she would often hear from children she babysits that other children at school were talking about Dusty and eager to meet him.

A $500 reward was put up by Mjelleli for Dusty’s return, but the woman who found him declined to accept the money. Emmert said the woman said doing so would be tantamount to taking Dusty for ransom.

The whole episode was a reminder that there are still good people in the world, Mjelleli said.

Interest in Dusty has not abated. Emmert said she still hears from people eager to come over and meet Dusty.

Dusty will soon have his own Facebook page where people can continue to follow him.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.