Military News

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

22nd SFS assist local law enforcement, finds missing autistic teenager

by Staff Sgt. Rachel Waller
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

6/5/2015 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Around 9:30 p.m. on May 28, 2015, a Haysville, Kansas, youth group was ending its weekly meeting.

All week long, thunderstorms and heavy bouts of rain had made an almost nightly appearance over Kansas.

Gabrielle "Nikki" Stoll, a 13-year-old autistic teenager was playing outside with her parents. When her parents said it was time to go, Stoll didn't want to leave, instead she ran into the dark night.

A call was made to local law enforcement and soon after they began searching for the missing teenager. The search continued overnight into the next morning.

"I heard about it on the news prior to coming into work that morning," recalled Sonia Payne, 22nd Security Forces Squadron mission assurance program advisor. "I had mentioned [the situation] when I came into work and [Robert] Sanderson said they were going to organize a search and asked if I would be interested in going."

In addition to Payne, who is also a captain in the U.S. Army reserves and is assigned to the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command, nine others from the 22nd SFS volunteered to help find Stoll.

"I was scared for the little girl," said Tech. Sgt. Danielle Soto, 22nd SFS NCO in charge of mission assurance. "I was scared for her family."

Payne felt compelled to volunteer because of her own children.

"This girl was like our own child, and I wanted to search for her," explained Payne. "I would hope that if my child went missing, people in the community would do the same thing to go look for a child they didn't know. It was our own child we were looking for. We were hoping we would find her alive and well."

Soon, the volunteers arrived to the dense and wet wooded area where Stoll was last seen.

"Driving up, I saw a lot of fields and woods, and I thought this is going to be a lot to cover," said Payne.

Luckily, there were more volunteers from the local communities, the church and local law enforcement were waiting for a preliminary search party to return so they could divide up the area into sectors to make the searching easier.

As Soto and Payne waited, they said they discussed amongst themselves different scenarios that may have happened to Stoll.

"We threw out all of these different scenarios, but what we came up with was that it's a 13-year-old child, who probably doubled back when she got lost and came back somewhere close," said Payne.

As the volunteers waited for the preliminary search party to return, they visually searched the area and the surrounding buildings for signs of the teenager.

"One building caught our eye, mine in particular. I was fixated on it and drawn to it," said Payne. "I asked if the building had been searched and was told yes."

The building in question had been searched multiple times throughout the night but that didn't deter Payne, she went off on her own.

"I thought I heard a noise coming from the area of the building I was going to look at," said Payne.

Payne explained that she had a hard time determining whether or not the noise was coming from the building because of the nearby highway and surrounding creek. Just as Payne determined the source of the noise was coming from the building, Soto was on her way to bring her back to the main search party group because the preliminary search team had returned.

"I asked Soto if she heard the noise and she said no. By the third time it sounded, Soto heard it and I thought, that little girl is up there," said Payne.

As soon as Soto heard the noise, both women raced up the stairs and checked the door handles and looked inside windows.

Through a window, Soto spotted the young girl, hunched down on all fours off to the side of the door.

"Soto tried to talk her out and let her know everything was okay," said Payne. "I turned around and started yelling to the group at the top of my lungs that we found her, that she was up here and to send help."

Soon, the youth leader arrived with the keys to the building and was able to unlock the door. The local law enforcement followed behind the youth leader and tried to get Stoll to leave her spot. Once Stoll's father arrived, he was able to coax her out of the building.

"I was happy we found her. For a child to be out there, by themselves, after dark, with a medical condition, is a really scary situation for any child. For us to find her, alive and well, we were relieved," said Payne.

Payne and Soto found Stoll around 11 a.m., more than 13 hours since she first disappeared.

"I had goose bumps and I was so thankful and happy that she was okay," said Soto. "I've never had formalized training for this type of situation. I was just thinking that I was looking for my own child. I'm grateful I was able to help."

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