by J.O. Parker
It was small town Iowa at its finest on Sunday morning as volunteers near and far joined law enforcement officials in a public search for Xavior Harrelson, the 11-year-old Montezuma boy who went missing last week.
“I came here to help find Xavior safe and healthy,” said Susan Voss, who made the trek with her husband, Bob, from North English. “It’s our main goal to support family and community.”
The organized public search drew 377 volunteers, some from as far away as Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and beyond, along with 125 law enforcement officials who spent part of Sunday combing the area looking for Xavior, who was reported missing by his family on Thursday, May 27. The public gathering follows three days of intense searches by local law enforcement officials, state patrol, DCI and the FBI, who were leaving no stone unturned, even going door-to-door searching Montezuma residents’ homes.
The pubic search comes on Xavior’s 11th birthday.
According to Brian Paul, Poweshiek County Emergency Management Agency coordinator, Xavior was last seen around 11 a.m. at his residence in the northwest edge of Montezuma. His direction of travel was unknown when he left home.
“This is very unusual of him to be gone for so long and without any contact,” Paul said in a press release sent out late last Thursday.
Xavior was last seen wearing a red T-shirt, blue pajama pants and black high top shoes. He is approximately 4-foot, 8-inches tall and weighs 100 pounds. He has brown hair and blue eyes.
On Saturday, law enforcement officials reported that they had covered a half-mile radius from where Xavior lives. On Sunday, thanks to the public’s help, that search was widened to a one-mile radius.
“We covered a lot of area, a lot of territory,” said Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director at Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. “We couldn’t be more appreciative of those people who did show up. And unfortunately, we weren’t able to locate Xavior.”
The line of volunteers went from the elementary school playground through the west hall and into the school cafeteria. It was there where they met search organizers who checked IDs and handed out yellow vests. From there, volunteers waited in the back parking lot of the school to load buses. A total of nine buses of volunteers were sent out to search the area.
Water and snacks, all donated by local and area residents, where handed out to volunteers. A “Meals” website was also set up for volunteers to sign up to prepare and deliver food to law enforcement officials involved in the search.
“We’ve got children,” said Joy Salls, who drove from Cedar Rapids with her husband, A.J. Wheeldon, to help with the search. “If we were ever in this horrible situation, we would want people to show up for us.”
“I woke up this morning and looked at the news about Xavior,” said Rusty Jones of Grimes. “I thought I would go see if I could help.”
When asked, Athena Simpson of Montezuma said she was there to search as a mom.
Macy Richards, also of Montezuma, said she came as a member of the community and as a school worker. She was joined in the search by her husband, Justin.
“I’m hoping for a safe return,” she said.
“I’m here to help,” said Doug Elam, who made the drive to Montezuma from Cedar Rapids.
“I just felt like I had to do something,” said Fred Burr, who drove from Des Moines to help with the search. “We just finished with the Mollie Tibbetts case and I needed to do something.”
“We are Iowans,” said Pete Sciarrotta of Newton, who came to help. “When there is a problem in Iowa, people show up.”
“It’s small community bonding together,” said Sue Failor, of Lake Ponderosa.
“I hope we find him – tired, hungry, OK and needing his mom,” said Connie Thompson of Lake Ponderosa, who came to search. “I’ve been praying for the family.”
“The school district was amazed at the amount of support provided by the large number of volunteers,” said Kurt Hanna, Montezuma Elementary Principal. “Although no major findings took place, the efforts of those involved helped to direct investigative decisions. The coordinated efforts between law enforcement agencies and the school was tremendous. We continue to pray for answers and the safe return of Xavior.”
“We can’t thank the citizens of Montezuma, surrounding communities, and neighboring emergency managers enough for the outpouring of support and assistance received,” said Paul.
At this time, Paul said there is no longer a need for food donations, as the team of investigators and support staff are adequately supplied.
Paul said investigators and local search teams will continue with their efforts to bring Xavior home, but at this time, no other organized public searches are scheduled.
“Lead investigators with the DCI and local officials have currently completed the primary search areas with the most likely and logical places Xavior may be located,” noted Paul. “With no new clues or information, the investigation team has determined to continue searching at a smaller scale unless information or clues obtained would change that to more large scale efforts.”
Anyone with information related to Xavior’s disappearance is asked to call the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office at 641-623-2107.