Missing elderly man found in Wirt County barn

PALESTINE – Officials in Wirt County were able to locate an elderly man who wandered off in the Palestine area Sunday.

A silver alert was put out Sunday for William Ray Barton, 74, from Fayette County. He had last been seen in the Garfield Road and Lynn Camp area of Wirt County on Sunday. His car was found in the area with its engine running Sunday morning along Garfield Road.

Crews were dispatched throughout the area conducting a search for Barton on Sunday morning and afternoon. He was eventually found by local firefighters in a barn about two miles from where his car was found.

“Mr. Barton has been found safe and sound at approximately (4:30 p.m.),” Wirt County Emergency Services Director Bo Wriston said Sunday evening, adding Barton was back with his family and they were scheduled to head back to Fayette County on Sunday evening.

“(Barton) suffered no injuries and was in good spirits,” Wriston said.

Barton apparently called family Friday night and announced his intentions to go to Virginia to visit family before taking off. At one point, Barton was apparently stopped by law enforcement in Lewis County and was asked about what he was doing there, Wriston said. He was able to maintain a conversation. This was before a missing persons report had been filed and police let him go on his way. However, it was that report that let officials know he was in Lewis County at one point.

Wriston did not know how Barton made it from Lewis County to Wirt County. When he was found, Barton was a little hungry and was given something to eat.

“His vitals were good,” he said.

The organizations who provided manpower and support for the operation included the Wirt County Sheriff’s Office, the Elizabeth/Wirt Volunteer Fire Department, Wirt County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional CERT, the Wood County CERT, the Tyler County Search & Rescue, Wood County Sheriff’s Office Air-Support, the West Virginia State Police and the Wirt County EMS.

A call was also put out for anyone with woodland search-and-rescue experience to assist and K-9s were also brought in to help with the search. The initial staging area was the Coplin Clinic in Elizabeth.

“At the height of the search, more than 60 responders were canvassing the local area via foot and vehicle,” Wriston said.

Searchers were broken up into teams with a number of groups traveling along the main roadways. Firefighters went door to door with flyers and eventually found Barton in the barn.

With the elderly population increasing and instances of Alzheimer’s and dementia occurring more frequently, programs are available to help track people, like Project Lifesaver. Under this program, a transmitter is attached to a band that can be worn on a person’s wrist or attached another way. If the person wanders off, officials can track the person.

Wriston said the program has saved over 3,000 lives with the people found in three hours or so.

“I highly recommend it for anyone with dementia or autism who has a tendency to wander off,” he said.

Wriston commended everyone who helped in the search for Barton.

“This search had a happy ending,” he said. “I wanted to thank all of the first-responders and volunteers who showed up to help this man and his family.

“It really shows the heart and soul of West Virginia.”