Focus put on South Buffalo farm pond after massive ground and air search fails to find missing man
As darkness started to fall Thursday, a massive two-day ground and air search for a missing elderly man came to an end in South Buffalo and attention returned to a farm pond.
Kenneth L. Himes, 70, lives in a Pittsburgh-area personal care home. But he returns to South Buffalo to visit his older brother’s family along Cadogan-Slate Lick Road for Christmas and other holidays.
“It was something he has done many times, but he had never walked away before,” said Kittanning state police Sgt. Rocco Russo.
He said Himes has had a number of medical problems and was showing signs of dementia but was peaceful and had worked when he could.
South Buffalo neighbor Sheri Patton said she often saw Himes attending services at the Slate Lick Presbyterian Church with his family. Patton knows Himes to see him but said she knows his family quite well.
“They are very kind, compassionate and caring people,” Patton said. “They are always willing to help everybody. That’s why so many came out for the search.”
The farm pond is less than a mile walk from the family home where Himes is thought to have left.
“After talking to the family, we think he left sometime between 11:30 p.m. Christmas night and 8 a.m. Wednesday when his family found him missing,” Russo said.
At 4 p.m., state police Cpl. Christopher Robbins noted that the weather would be changing overnight.
“It’s already 36 to 48 hours after he left, and it’s going to get colder and rain,” he said.
Russo said Himes was wearing a black jacket, black tassel cap and white tennis shoes.
During the searches Wednesday and Thursday, a Civil Air Patrol airplane and two state police helicopters flew searches that included use of heat-seeking and special radar before the ground search teams began to slog through the mud and brambles of the Armstrong County countryside.
“Nothing,” said Russo, shaking his head.
At about 5 p.m. Thursday as darkness fell, hundreds of searchers climbed into pickups, vans and cars to leave the search headquarters on a farm down the hill from the Himes family.
No search planned for Friday
Officials had decided not to search Friday.
“With the rainy weather coming in and concern for the safety of the searchers, we are suspending the search,” said South Buffalo Fire Chief Randy Brozenick.
Meanwhile, a large pump continued to spew water from the farm pond Thursday as darkness approached.
“We are going to drain the pond,” Brozenick said.
He said the pond is about 100 yards long and 50 yards wide and is believed to be 20 feet deep in some spots.
“We are always hopeful, but six search dogs separately led us to the pond,” Russo said. “We’re not leaving until we know.”
There was no further report on the pond Thursday night.
Thursday morning’s sun brought about 250 farm neighbors and just plain folks — many of whom said they didn’t know Hines or his family. Nevertheless, they put on hoodies or hunting jackets and boots to take part in a search coordinated by state police, the fire department and Armstrong County 911.
The army of searchers joined volunteer firefighters and medics from across Armstrong County, New Kensington, Arnold, Butler and Clarion counties, local police, the Civil Air Patrol from the Pittsburgh area and Erie, and groups such as the all-volunteer Allegheny Mountain Rescue group, fire and police officials said.
Michelle Bothum, of the South Hills, joined the Allegheny Mountain team last March. On Thursday, she and members John Rogowski, of East McKeesport, and Matt Banson, of the Greenfield section of Pittsburgh, joined the search. They were in shape but tired as only tromping through brush and mud can cause.
“We searched on the other side of Route 28,” Bothum said. “It was thick.”
About 36 CAP cadets and adult officers took part in the type of ground search for which they are trained and equipped, their adult members said.
“They cadets gave up their vacation to search. This is what they do,” said adult member Major Kim Galford, from Erie.
It’s the second time is as many years that the Civil Air Patrol was called out at Christmastime, Galford said. On Christmas Day 2017, about 5 feet of snow fell on parts of Erie County.
Stanley Simcik of South Buffalo spent a second day searching because Himes is the uncle of his good friend, Chuck Himes.
“The whole family is very well liked,” he said. “They are well thought of. That’s why there are so many people.”
Frank Davis of the Manor Fire Department said the terrain exhausted people.
There was some thick brush and I took one to my face,” he said, smiling with a lip that bled some after encountering thorns and brush.
“We went through a muddy creek bottom,” he said. “Nobody would want to go there.”
The group started out at 8:40 a.m. after the search dogs first swept the area.
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.