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Hunter hears missing 9-year-old's cries for help in cornfield

The girl with autism had wandered away from home.

When a 9-year-old girl on the autism spectrum was reported missing in west central Minnesota late Saturday, 16 law enforcement agencies sprang into action to search for her.

But ultimately it was a pheasant hunter who heard the girl calling for help in a cornfield north of Raymond, the Kandiyohi County sheriff says.

A statement from the sheriff's office says the girl's mother called authorities just after 4:30 p.m. and said family members had been searching for half an hour by then.

Sheriff's deputies got help from the Willmar Police Department's K9 unit, from the fire departments and emergency personnel from other nearby towns and counties, and even from two private citizens who used their planes for an aerial search.

It was Daniel Kiecker who heard the girl and found her at 6:43 p.m., Sheriff Daniel Hartog says. While Kiecker is a volunteer firefighter in Lake Lillian, he was hunting for pheasants rather than searching for a missing person Saturday evening.

Wandering common among those with autism

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics a few years ago, nearly half of parents with a child on the autism spectrum said their kid had wandered away or tried to.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says kids with autism may seek out a small or enclosed place. Sometimes they wander toward something of special interest to them – or may be getting away from noises or sights they don't like.

For reasons that are not understood very well, children on the autism spectrum are often attracted to bodies of water.

While the Raymond 9-year-old was able to call out for help, some children with autism are not verbal. The group Autism Speaks offers tips for parents about how to prevent a wandering-related tragedy.

They include securing your home with special locks or an alarm system and considering a tracking device or a medical ID bracelet for your child.

More cities using tracking systems

A system called SafetyNet is being used by a growing number of cities to track children or adults vulnerable to wandering.

Last week the Minneapolis Fire Department adopted the technology, which has the potential wanderer wear a bracelet that can be traced by searchers using the SafetyNet device.

St. Paul started using it about five years ago. A fire captain told MPR News the program expanded to all of Ramsey County in February and has been used in 20 rescues since then.

Hunters double as searchers

Because they head out into remote areas every fall, it's not that unusual for hunters to be the ones who discover missing people.

It happened last month in New Jersey, where a woman who'd been missing for more than a week was found in a wooded area by a hunter.

Pheasant hunters in western Minnesota and North and South Dakota have been asked to check abandoned farm buildings for the body of a woman whom Ramsey County investigators this was killed and left in an outbuilding somewhere in the region.

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