Claude Bullington was found safe early Tuesday morning at an Ottawa Casey’s General Store after going missing from his south Kansas City, Mo., home Monday. Suffering from what his family called early onset dementia, Bullington’s situation is one police departments encounter all too often, officials said.
“They let him go off by himself, which means they think he’s pretty capable,” Sgt. Marisa Barnes, with the Kansas City Police Department, said. “I don’t know if they’ll take different steps now.
“[Senior citizens] ... want to do stuff on their own, but they can deteriorate quickly, so people need to keep an eye out.”
It appeared Bullington had been awake for most, if not all, of the nearly 18 hours he had been missing while trying to make his way home, Barnes said. If an elderly person who is suffering from dementia has access to a vehicle, she said, it is not uncommon to find them far from home.
Tuesday’s “silver alert,” in which law enforcement agencies and others were alerted to a missing elderly person, was not the first such situation for the Ottawa Police Department, Capt. Adam Weingartner, with the department, said. Bullington was fortunate, he said, to be safe and unharmed. Although confused and disoriented, Bullington didn’t seem to be worse for wear, Weingartner said.
Family members came to Ottawa about 8 a.m. Tuesday to retrieve Bullington and his vehicle from Ottawa police custody, Weingartner said. It did not appear Bullington had a cell phone to call for help when he got lost, he said.
At about 1:30 p.m. Monday, Bullington apparently had taken his pickup to Harrisonville, Mo., to have it inspected at a dealership. Because a family member was too busy to take him, Bullington had set out on the 45-minute journey alone, Barnes said. The dealership, however, no longer was in business, Sgt. Chris Young, with the Kansas City, Mo., police, said.
In similar instances encountered by the Ottawa police, Weingartner said police were able to cross reference the person’s name through missing persons and get them home quickly. Early reporting of a suspected missing person, especially in the case of the elderly, is key, he said.
“At some point, they become in more need of care than what maybe they previously had needed, and that’s really going to be an individual situation based on what the family thinks is best for them,” Weingartner said. “Certainly a few things you can do is check on them regularly, make sure they are where they are supposed to be.”
“And, if something seems out of sorts, definitely contact the police,” he said.
Bullington found his way into the Ottawa city limits early Tuesday and stopped at the 304 N. Main St. Casey’s location. At that point, he was recognized by one of the store’s regular customers as being the subject of a silver alert. The customer called the police, Cheri Mcneill, a Casey’s employee said, and Casey’s employees kept Bullington calm until police arrived.
Mcneill said Bullington did not seem upset or scared, just lost.
“We just talked to him and kept him in here until the police got here,” Mcneill said. “He was confused. He was lost. He was looking for 71 highway.”
A report by the Kansas City, Mo., police department did not indicate whether Bullington had been missing before, Sgt. Barnes said.
By identifying something was wrong and calling the police immediately, Barnes said, Bullington’s family did the right thing.
“The last line of the report reads: It is very unlike Claude to be out past dark,” Barnes said of the now-found Bullington.