Central Wisconsin group works to bring home the missing
By Kris Leonhardt
CENTRAL WISCONSIN – A central Wisconsin nonprofit organization is working to assist law enforcement and families, providing both awareness and assistance in locating missing individuals.
Heather Vancil and Sherri Jo Lucas co-founded Rapid Search and Rescue in 2012,
“Rapid Search and Rescue is also a part of a group called STOW (Search Teams of Wisconsin,)” explained Vancil.”STOW is a collaboration of nationally certified teams in Wisconsin, made up of equine, K-9, and ground search volunteers, who assist law enforcement in locating lost/missing people. STOW teams are Rapid Search and Rescue, Valley Mounted Volunteers, WI K9SOS, K9 Emergency Response Teams, and Headwater SAR.”
Rapid SAR serves areas in central and western Wisconsin.
The group doesn’t just provide physical support locating the missing, most of the cost of those services comes from their own pockets.
“Most of our costs come directly out of our own personal funds,” Vancil explained. “We do hold fundraisers to raise money for equipment needs for our mobile incident command center. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 all fundraisers for this year were cancelled.
“Rapid Search and Rescue also does fundraising efforts to give back to our community as well. We had a Paws for a Cause fundraiser planned for our local law enforcement K-9s.
“We have also spent many hours entering missing persons into the NamUs database.”
Organization members are also trained to assist with the Volunteer Reception Center with State Emergency Management Coordinators.
This year, Rapid SAR has played a role in locating nine missing individuals, which included “boots on the ground”/Incident Command Management and distribution of flyers,
“As recently as (Nov. 16), we had posted a flyer which led to the recovery of a minor being located safe. When it comes to minors we do not leave their flyers up after a 24-hour period to protect their privacy,” Vancil recalled.
Their Facebook page – www.facebook.com/RapidsSAR — is doing work of its own.
“The goal with our page is to spread awareness about missing person cases to help bring them home. Social media has proven to be a valuable resource in getting missing persons information out to others. We also provide helpful tips on how to help prevent someone becoming lost and what they should do if they find themselves in that situation,” Vancil said.
Leading up to the gun deer season, Rapids SAR volunteers spent their days posted information on Wisconsin residents that remain missing. Their reach Nov. 13-19 was 62,988.
“Marsha Lortiz who is with a non-profit called Wisconsin Missing Persons Advocacy provided me a list of who is missing in Wisconsin a few years ago,” Vancil said. “She has spent mamy hours searching the internet compiling a list of all the missing in Wisconsin.Gathering information on everyone who is missing is a huge challenge as there is not one public database with the information. We use websites such as NamUS, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, The Charley Project, Wisconsin DOJ and FB Searches.
“We collaborate and work together with Wisconsin Missing Persons Advocacy to provide assistance to families who have a missing loved one. Marsha’s mother Victoria Prokopovitz went missing on April 25, 2013, Victoria is still missing.”
Vancil and Dawn LeClair manage the Facebook page, which is also set up to receive donations.
“We accept donations via our Facebook page or someone can contact us on Facebook to arrange a different way for us to collect donations,” Vancil added.
“Another way we collect donations is through Amazon Smile. It is a simple way for someone to support their favorite charitable organization every time they shop, at no cost to them.
“Together we can all make a huge difference in bringing home the missing.”