When Maryanne Rosenman went missing Aug. 14, her husband, Julian, had a dream about her coming home. In his dream, he heard a knock on his front door and he opened it to find his wife standing in front of him. In the dream, she said, “I’m here, I found my way home.”
Two days later, on Aug, 16, Ms. Rosenman, who suffers from a variation of alzheimer’s disease, was found. As Dr. Rosenman and his children were picking up gatorades and cokes for the search party that included the Orange County Sheriff’s Office staff set up at the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department Station, he received his 50th call from Alicia Stemper. The first 49 calls he had gotten from Stemper, the Director of Public Information and Special Services for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office had been to tell Dr. Rosenman his wife had not yet been found.
But this one was different.
“Oh my gosh,” Dr. Rosenman remembers his son and sister-in-law exclaiming in the car when he received that fateful call telling him his wife had been found safely.
My only thought was, ‘I want to get home and see her,’” Dr. Rosenman said, when recounting that story Friday morning at the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department Station.
Standing next to Stemper, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood and Emergency Management Coordinator Kirby Saunders, and wearing a red and black sports polo with black pants and a microphone attached to the top of his shirt, Dr. Rosenman addressed the media regarding his wife’s return to safety and the importance of OC Alerts, a system that could help find others who go missing in the future.
Regarding his wife’s disappearance, Dr. Rosenman, who keeps himself busy while semi-retired by teaching advanced students about cancer at UNC; and worked on cancer research for 35 years, said he never lost hope. The first day Ms. Rosenman went missing, he was sure the search team would find her. But as the hours crept by with no sight of Ms. Rosenman, he admitted that fear started to sink in.
The teams had conducted dozens of missions, but finally, they had a breakthrough.
“The team that found her was the 56th mission,” Saunders said. “We had done 56 missions in 53 hours. For us, a mission is a combination of a team assigned to a specific area. So we had roughly 68 different areas already plotted on the map and we were recovering some of the areas we had searched.”
When notified that Ms. Rosenman was found, her husband quickly rushed to her side and said, “Maryanne, I love you.”
In looking back at the events that transpired in the last week, Dr. Rosenman had mixed emotions of the pain he felt at his wife’s disappearance mixed with the elation of her being found alive.
“It’s been a terrible week and it’s been an amazing week,” Dr. Rosenman said. “I almost lost my wife of 49 years. She could’ve died frightened and alone in a ditch somewhere in the woods. That’s why it was terrible. But it was amazing because of the outpouring of help from hundreds of people whom I do not know and never thanked personally for taking their time and their talent to find Maryanne.”
Ms. Rosenman is back safe and healing in the hospital with her husband by her side, and he said she does not remember anything that happened to her last week.
“She has no recollection whatsoever of the event,” he said. “Part of it has to do with the kind of dementia that she has.”
Dr. Rosenman then stressed the importance of families being prepared for the worst, whether that means wandering seniors wearing Life Track bracelets, or citizens getting alerts from local law enforcement, as both he and Stemper discussed.
“The Sheriff's Office has the Life Track bracelet program,” Stemper said. “Emergency services runs this system called OCAlerts, and we desperately need folks to register.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office tried to activate the alert technique for Ms. Rosenman, which Stemper said is sometimes referred to as the reverse 9-1-1 program, but they found that just 12-14 of the 244 homes in Dr. Rosenman’s neighborhood were registered.
“That's one of the messages that Dr. Rosenman and I are going to be working on going forward is how to get more people aware of it [OC Alerts] and how to get more people opted in,” Stemper said.
The reason for the lack of registration is due to many people not having landlines. Of the 140,000 people in the community, only 60,000 have landlines, according to Saunders.
Unlike Amber Alerts and National Weather Service alerts, which Saunders says are federally mandated into one’s cell phone, local systems like OC Alerts are not automatically programmed for citizens. Instead, members of the community can sign up at readyOrange.org by clicking on OC Alerts at the top of the page.
“That allows you to put in your address, put in your phone, you can have multiple addresses, so if you wanted to monitor not only your home, but your work,” Saunders explained. “If you wanted to have alerts about your child's school, what's happening in your day care, you could put in up to five different addresses to be monitored.”
The other method to sign up is by texting one’s zip code to 888-777.
As Dr. Rosenman remarked Friday, it’s important for families to be prepared by signing up for OC Alerts, or by having their loved ones wear Life Track bracelets.
‘It's a radio frequency way that we switch for with an antennae, off of that bracelet,” Sheriff Blackwood said. “We use the information that's provided from witnesses, family members, and also we take into account the terrain and the pattern of behavior of that person, but it's generally very quick.”
In this case, Ms. Rosenman was found safely, thanks to the help of local law enforcement and members of the community coming together to help one of their own, but each speaker still made it clear that citizens should take preventative measures to prepare for similar situations that could arise.