Missing girl found safe after police search

WESTFIELD — A K-9 unit, police drone, a State Police helicopter and several officers were involved in a frantic search for a missing 8-year-old girl on Wednesday. She was found safe a few hours later behind a neighbor’s garage.

Westfield Police Capt. Jay Pitoniak said Aug. 4 that Iris Burch, 8, was first reported missing by her mother shortly after 3 p.m. on Aug. 3. She had last been seen on their Fairfield Avenue property just after 2 p.m. Pitoniak said that the search began with a thorough search within their home, after which the search area quickly expanded to an area of at least a few blocks.

Westfield Police deployed their aerial drone, but that had to be grounded to grant airspace to the Massachusetts State Police helicopter. Burch came out from hiding behind the neighbors garage once she heard all of the commotion in the area.

Pitoniak said that she was never in any danger from anything but the elements. He said a concern with missing children in areas with pools or natural bodies of water is that they will end up in the water and drown. He said that Burch was found with only some scratches and dirt after having been in an overgrown area.

Though Pitoniak said that police are still following up on reports from neighbors of unknown persons seen in the neighborhood around that time, he said that there is no reason to believe that foul play was involved, or that any adult was involved in her going missing.

The search involved at least eight Westfield Police Officers, the drone operator, and Massachusetts State Police. Pitoniak said that some neighbors helped with the search and gave the police information. He noted though that when a K-9 is involved in the search, as one was in this case, additional people being in the search area may only serve to throw the dog off of whatever scent it picks up.

Pitoniak said that this search was a standard police response for a missing child report of this nature. He said that one thing he wants people to take away from this is that one does not need to wait 24 hours to report someone missing. Anyone with a reasonable belief that a person who cannot be located is in danger should report it to the police as soon as possible. The idea that one would need to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person is a commonly cited myth, he said.

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