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Sheriff suspends search

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Despite exhaustive effort, missing Inverness woman not found

By Buster Thompson

Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast suspended the five-day search for missing Inverness woman Carol McHugh.

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“Each effort that we’ve expended has been met with negative results,” Prendergast said Tuesday evening. “But no effort has been held back to reunite Carol with her family.”

Prendergast still urged tipsters to call 911 to report any information about McHugh’s whereabouts.

He said detectives will continue to investigate how McHugh disappeared at about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday while taking a walk on East Regency Row in the Seven Lakes subdivision near Inverness. 

Since 72-year-old McHugh, who suffers from memory issues, was reported missing at about 10 p.m. on Thursday, sheriff’s personnel, volunteers and other agencies have combed through 15,000 acres in and around McHugh’s community, totaling more than 3,000 man hours, Prendergast said.

Prendergast said he met with McHugh’s family members — who live close to where McHugh has lived since 1988 off East Lenox Court — to discuss his decision.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Heather Yates said McHugh’s family is staying positive.

“They’re very strong, very strong,” Yates said. “They want their mother home and that’s what we want, too.”

Using ATVs, boats, helicopters and dogs, rescuers have searched through residential and wooded areas alike, knocking on doors, searching vacant homes and sifting through thick vegetation since Thursday night.

Yates said Realtors Association personnel have opened doors of for-sale homes for police to look through. Flyers with McHugh’s photo have been posted at businesses and on street signs around Inverness.

“We’ve been so thorough,” Yates said. “It’s been an all-out effort to find her.”

Individuals, groups and businesses donated food and water to rescuers, stationed along East Lenox Court.

“The community outpouring has just been amazing,” Yates said. “Everyone wants to find her.”

Yates said the sheriff’s office does not suspect foul play, and doesn’t believe McHugh had access to a vehicle to drive anywhere.

Yates said investigators are not ruling out the possibility that McHugh was picked up by a passing motorist, but no leads have suggested that. 

“We’re not ruling anything out,” she said.

After searching outlying areas on Monday, Yates said Tuesday’s search efforts focused back toward the Seven Lakes subdivision.

“We’ve been in, we’ve been out, we’ve been back in again,” Yates said, adding individuals who suffer from memory issues and get lost are often found close to where they live. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 94 percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared.

Through Tuesday’s overcast morning, hot afternoon and rainy evening, sheriff’s units and volunteer members with Peace River K9 Search & Rescue took to the search.

Linda Boles, of nonprofit bloodhound organization Find-M-Friends, has also been assisting the sheriff’s office since the search began, making this the longest search she’s been involved with in her seven-year search-and-rescue career, she said Tuesday.

Boles said she and her bloodhound Winchester will keep searching for McHugh as long as she’s out there.

Beverly and Bud Raynor live right next to where the sheriff’s mobile command center had been for the past five days, at the end of East Lenox Court.

The Raynors said McHugh would join them on walks on a regular basis, and is a very genuine person.

“She’s very friendly. She loves to talk to people. She’s a very loving woman, she’s a good person and she’s very faithful,” Beverly Raynor said. 

“Never says a bad word about anybody; there was no animosity towards anybody or anything,” Bud Raynor added.

“She knows this area and she would walk it everyday, so for her to walk off is strange to us because she only went so far; she didn’t go into an area that she wasn’t familiar with,” Beverly Raynor said. “Our hearts go out to her family.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916 or bthompson@chronicleonline.com.

 

* Carol McHugh, 72, was last seen at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday taking a walk on East Regency Row in the Seven Lakes subdivision of Inverness, a few streets away from where she lives on East Lenox Court.

* McHugh is a white woman, 5 feet 1 inch tall, weighs 133 pounds and has brown hair. She was last seen wearing black pants and a tan shirt with brown stripes and a large collar. 

* Authorities are urging people to search their sheds, porches, pool areas and yards. Anyone with any information about McHugh’s whereabouts is asked to call 911.