The well-being of a vulnerable Kenyon man who went missing late Saturday night was of paramount concerns for those who spent time searching for him over the weekend, until he was located safe in the woods at Kenyon Depot Park.
More than 120 volunteers mobilized to aid in the search for Charlie Armstrong, an 80 year old man who walked away from his assisted living apartment at Kenyon Senior Living sometime before 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16.
Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander put out an attempt to locate notice on the department’s Facebook page at 12:30 a.m. with a description of Armstrong, noting that the man has a prosthetic foot, was not wearing his glasses and that he has memory issues.
Volunteers from the Kenyon Fire Department and surrounding communities joined the police search, checking the area around Huseth Street in Kenyon on foot and in all terrain vehicles into the early hours of the morning. The K-9 unit swept the area but could not find a solid trail that continued. Armstrong had a cell phone with him, but it was an older flip phone model. Police were able to ping a signal from the phone on the east side of Kenyon. They conducted a thorough search of the Kenyon Senior Living campus several times to make sure he was not simply somewhere else in the building, since walking great distances would be difficult for Armstrong.
At 5 a.m., with nothing found in the area of the last phone ping in the 1000 block of Second Street, the family and searchers regrouped and decided to wait until daylight to continue looking. It was a long, cold night.
Then around 6:30 a.m., their hopes soared. Armstrong called his son from the flip phone, saying he was confused about where he was at. Searchers and the K-9 unit continued to look for him, but Armstrong remained missing.
Shortly after 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Kenyon Police sent out Code Red Alert phone message and text in the area, urging Kenyon residents to check their property for Armstrong and to call 911 if he is located. The search was announced that morning at area churches and more people mobilized to look for the missing man.
Sjolander kept a running timeline with updates on Facebook; it was shared over 1,600 times. He posted a meeting at the new Kenyon Fire Hall at 9 a.m. for briefing and to form additional search teams, including drone planes.
Kenyon Fire Department Chief Scott Miner organized the search teams, assigning people and putting a trained first responder with each team. He used a large color layout map of Kenyon, sectioning off areas of town with colored markers and noting which teams were searching each area.
Firefighters from Wanamingo, Pine Island and Goodhue came to assist, bringing searchers and ATVs. Volunteers at the Fire Hall provided sandwiches, snacks and water. Groups of people waited there, some regrouping before going out to search again, some praying and others providing support.
Considering the cell phone location pings, officials were gathering volunteers to do a side-by-side sweep of the area north of Kenyon, just across the Zumbro River, at 3:15 p.m. Eight Goodhue County Sheriff’s Posse riders assembled behind the Fire Hall, saddling up horses to join the search.
Then at 3:10 p.m., the call everyone had been waiting and praying for; Armstrong was found. The Kenyon First Responders rushed to the scene and the ambulance was called.
Doug and Mary Klatt had decided to take one more walk through the Depot Park area behind their house on Second Street. They and others had searched the park before, but it still seemed like the most likely place.
There in the sloping wood of lower Depot Park, only about 15 feet off the gravel driveway, they found Armstrong laying face down. Klatt said Mary spied his yellow shirt. They approached and Klatt lay his hand on Armstrong’s shoulder, calling him by name.
Armstrong answered, “Yah. Tell my son Alvin to call me.”
Klatt said they were so relieved and thankful to find him alive.
Over at the Fire Hall a cheer went up when the call came in, and several people burst into tears as the emotion of the day lifted. The ambulance driver tooted the horn as they passed the Fire Hall, transporting Armstrong to receive medical attention in Rochester. His son and daughter-in-law rode with him.
Kenyon Senior Living Director Chelsea Kalal and Activities/Social Services Director Emily Quam had been at the search from the early hours of the morning and both expressed thanks and relief that Armstrong was safe.
“I am very thankful for how our community pulled together, for so many volunteers, and very thankful that he was found,” an emotional Kalal said.
Armstrong has been in the assisted living apartment at Kenyon Senior Living since Aug. 22. Unlike the nursing home and memory care wings, that unit is not under surveillance and residents are free to come and go as they want.
A post on the Kenyon Volunteer Firefighters Facebook page on Monday shared that Armstrong’s family expressed thanks to all the firefighters and volunteers who assisted. He reportedly has no broken bones but was very tired.