Published: February 05, 2009 09:42 am Helping in the search
Response team, rescue squad aid in search of missing M’boro woman, Bell County man
By Sean Bailey / Staff Writer
Wednesday’s winter storm deterred two local rescue squads who earlier in the week joined Bell County officials in searching for a missing Middlesboro resident.
According to the Middlesboro Daily News, 58-year-old Katherine “Kat” Heck
went for a walk on Sunday morning and never came back. The Daily News is reporting that Middlesboro police do not believe her disappearance was an abduction, but rather attributed it to “health problems.”
The Knox County Special Operations Response Team (SORT) and the Williamsburg-Whitley County Rescue Squad joined the search for Heck Sunday and continued their aid until the weather stopped them on Wednesday.
“We volunteered to help them out,” said Mark Strean of the Williamsburg-Whitley County Rescue Squad. “We helped with ground searches around the area where she was last seen.”
Wednesday afternoon, the Daily News reported Heck’s shoe had been found near 43rd Street in Middlesboro, but she had not yet been located.
Gerald Baker, captain of Knox County SORT, said his team helped with door-to-door searches on Sunday evening, and spent Monday and Tuesday combing the area where Heck was last seen on foot.
“They had flyers made up and we went door-to-door asking if anyone had seen her,” Baker said. “I’d be afraid to say how many houses we went to — somewhere between 50 and 100.”
Baker said helping rescue squads outside of the Tri-County isn’t uncommon — in fact, other squads have lent their aid when Knox and Whitley have needed it.
The search for Heck “unfortunately wasn’t successful” as of Wednesday afternoon, Baker said. And as the days drag on and the temperatures dip, Baker says the likelihood of finding Heck alive is not great.
“Unfortunately, time is of the essence, and it’s been a few days now,” Baker said. “Whatever happens with the search we would like to give the family some peace of mind.”
Wednesday’s winter weather kept both local rescues squads at home in case any emergencies should arise in the Tri-County.
Baker said Knox SORT planned to wait out the winter weather before rejoining the search in Bell County. As of Wednesday afternoon Baker said there had not been any major problems in Knox County.
“We’ve been in contact with Bell County’s rescue squad, and we should know what the weather is like late this evening (Wednesday) and we’ll go from there,” Baker said.
Weather permitting, Baker said Knox County SORT would continue aiding Bell County’s search on Thursday.
The search for Heck came just one day after Knox SORT assisted Bell County in searching for a 70-year-old man who was allegedly murdered near Pineville. Baker said he had a 12-person crew searching a stretch of the Cumberland River on Saturday for Paul Slusher, who had been reported missing after a wellness check of his home found the house ransacked and Slusher nowhere to be seen.
Two people, Joshua Parson and Lora Amburgey, were charged with murder, first-degree robbery, kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence, but Slusher’s body has yet to be found. Police say the two were stopped by police and a search of their vehicle turned up items stolen from Slusher’s ransacked home. An investigation, according to police, revealed that Slusher had been bound and gagged, then robbed before being killed and thrown into the Cumberland River.
The grizzly nature of the murder has put an emotional strain on Baker and the crew, but once again, Baker said it’s important to find closure for the victims’ family.
The long hours the crew has put in the last week makes 2009 a particularly busy year for Knox County SORT.
“We’ve been busier these last weeks than all of 2008,” Baker said. “If that’s any indication, this year is going to be pretty busy.”