Former students help search for missing retired teacher

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News 12 at 6 o' clock/ January 20, 2014

Waynesboro, Ga.--77-year old Arletha Bennett has Alzheimer's and went missing from her home in Waynesboro early Friday morning. Her caretaker last saw her around 11 that night, But when she went to check on her two hours later, she was nowhere to be found.

Hundreds have been helping with the search efforts, but still, no sign of the former teacher. She taught 5th grade in the Burke County school system for 35 years. Many volunteers in the search party, like Missy Kelly, are former students.

"I think she was a great role model to all of us. I own a day care center now and the impact from her and some of the other teachers had a lot to do with that," Kelly said.

After 35 years of helping local students succeed, it's now the students who are gathering to help Miss Bennett. Chief Augustus Palmer with the Waynesboro Police Department has been heading up the search efforts, and he says it's clear to see how important Ms. Bennett is to the community.

"The citizens have been tremendous in their outpouring of support for Ms. Bennett. A lot of them were taught by her," Chief Palmer said.

Dozens were split into teams Monday to search the area near her home on Herman Lodge Boulevard in Waynesboro. "We're going to leave no stone unturned," Chief Palmer said.

Volunteers have walked 20 or 30 miles since Friday, combing the city for any trace of Ms. Bennett.

"My grandfather died with Alzheimer's, and it's been weighing really heavy on my heart ever since this all started to know that she was here one minute and gone the next," Kelly said.

Police tape marks every place around the city the search team has looked, but the more time ticks by, the more worried her family becomes.

Arletha's brother, Hyland Bennett, came down from Colorado to help with the search. "We're just praying someone finds her and bring her back home," he said.

Her family is offering a $2,500 reward for anyone who finds her, but they're worried something sinister may be at play since she isn't able to walk very far.

"She gets out of breath really easily. She couldn't walk out of the bedroom to the living room without being out of breath," Bennett said.

She also had a broken foot, and should have left her home in a boot cast. Police are trying to remain optimistic and hoping someone may have seen her, and just offered her a ride.

"Based on the information we've been given, we've determined she probably could not have gone a great distance on her own power. It's a very good possibility someone did give her a ride trying to be a good Samaritan," Chief Palmer said.

Investigators traveled to Midville on Sunday to search some of her old stomping grounds. She lived there many years ago, and with Alzheimer's you can never tell what time frame patients may revert to.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Waynesboro Police Department at 706-554-8029.