MADISON COUNTY —
Beginning early Tuesday morning, almost 200 volunteers from 13 organizations continued the search for Berea teen Brookelyn Farthing, 18, in the Big Hill area where she was reported missing four weeks ago.
All along KY 21 and out to Owsley Fork reservoir, search teams in orange vests, on four-wheelers, in boats and even on horses, could be seen trudging through the countryside overgrown from recent heavy rains.
This is still a missing person case, said Trooper Paul Blanton, Kentucky State Police spokesperson for Richmond Post 7.
“We have not received any information that leads us to believe something bad has happened to Brookelyn, but we've not had any information in the other direction either," Blanton said.
Organizers gathered at a temporary command post at Indian Fort Theater, just a short distance from Dillon Court, where Farthing was reportedly seen just hours before a “suspicious fire” was extinguished in the home by local firefighters.
The following week, local law enforcement and emergency agencies scoured 500 acres on Floyd Branch Road off Red Lick Road as well as areas directly behind the home on Dillon Court.
Tuesday’s effort was an attempt to continue where they left off, Blanton said. Teams will work until a 1.5-mile radius from the intersection of KY 21 and US 421 is covered or until they run out of daylight. The area includes some bodies of water as well.
“We’ve not received any specific information for this search,” he said. “This is really an expanded search area from what we’ve already searched.”
Blanton said all of the tips received so far, mostly from the Big Hill area, have been personally investigated by a detective or a trooper.
Police released a statement July 2 asking that local property owners pay particular attention to freshly turned earth, unusual smells, ditch lines and remote areas. Although nothing has turned up so far, they ask that people keep looking, he said.
A television reporter at the command post Tuesday asked why so much attention has been focused on the Farthing case.
“You guys don’t, as far as I know, tend to do this much searching for most of the people who go missing,” the reporter said.
Blanton said he had never been involved in a missing person investigation that has gone on so long.
“Usually the person or the body is located within a relatively short time,” he said. “I know she (Brookelyn) was a very social person…. She grew up here in Madison County — there’s a lot of interest for her to come home safe.”
The fire that occurred at the Dillon Court home June 22 is still under investigation. It could take a while to find an accelerant in the fire residue, Blanton said.
Help arrives from fellow Kentuckians
The East Kentucky Trackers, a volunteer search and rescue organization based in Pikeville, set up a station near a boat dock at Owsley Fork reservoir.
For the past five years, the group has been conducting horse-mounted searches with specially trained horses.
Many EKT volunteers have search and rescue backgrounds and experience with horses, team members said Tuesday.
“Horses can go places others can’t,” said EKT volunteer Cindy Sither.
Horses also have keen senses and will often point their ears in certain directions, she said. “We learn to pay attention to the horse, they can smell around like a dog.”
The advantage of a horse-mounted search is having a higher view of the surroundings and the ability to listen for noises without the roar of an engine.
“We are slower than a four-wheeler but faster than feet,” Sither said.
Back at the command post, Captain Sally Love with the Salvation Army was handing out sandwiches, bananas and other snacks to search volunteers who gathered there for lunch and to take a rest under the shade.
“It’s a blessing for us to be able to serve,” she said.
The groups who joined the search efforts Tuesday include: Search and rescue teams from Madison, Rockcastle, Estill, Knott, Wolfe and Harlan counties; Kentucky State Police personnel and cadets; Madison County Emergency Management; Berea College Department of Forestry; Medical Reserve Corp.; East Kentucky Trackers; Woodbine Rescue; and the Salvation Army.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.
Brookelyn benefit at the Hog Trough Aug. 3
The Hog Trough, 103 Big Hill Ave., Richmond, is scheduled to host an Aug. 3 benefit to help aid Brookelyn’s family in their search.
The family hopes to raise money for a reward fund, purchase space on a billboard, distribute more flyers and sell more T-shirts to support the search.
The benefit will begin with a balloon release shortly before motorcyclists take off on a ride in Farthing’s honor at 1 p.m.
Registration for the ride begins at 10:30 a.m. Admission is $10 per bike and $5 per rider. The Hog Trough will serve food for $5 a plate and will entertain with live music all day.
“Ride for Brooke” T-shirts will be on sale for $10, and T-shirts with Farthing’s missing poster printed on them are currently available at the bar for $10. Those under 21 are not permitted in the bar, but all of Farthing’s friends and family (including those under age 21) are encouraged to attend the balloon release before the ride.