The story behind the story of Sarnia’s missing boy

Cathy Dobson

When an eight-year-old Sarnia boy went missing on July 19, the community came together to prove both the value of its pioneering alert system and the spirit of the people who live here.

“I was at home on my computer around 9 p.m. that night and saw the (Sarnia Police) post on Facebook,” recalls Kevin Colbran, a 39-year-old truck driver.

The post said a boy on his bicycle had been missing near Norm Perry Park since 3 p.m. that day. A request for citizens to help find the child was accompanied by a photo and description.

“I felt for him. He was only eight years old and it was dark outside,” said Colbran. “I turned to my wife, who is in a wheelchair, and asked if she wanted to go with me to look. We just felt compelled to help.”

The couple confirmed with police he was still missing, drove to the boy’s home on Exmouth Street and told his parents they wanted to help search.

“We really didn’t have any idea where to start but I thought, when I was a kid I would have gone to the Government Docks, so that’s where we went first.

“It didn’t take me long to find him,” said Colbran. “We saw a blinking light on a bicycle by the side of the road at the end of the dock.  I just lucked out.

“I guess a lot of people and a lot of police were out looking for him but we found him talking to a fisherman.”

Colbran got out of his car and saw right away the little boy fit the missing person description.  It was about 9:50 p.m.

“I told him everything would be okay and we’d take him back home.” Just then a police officer pulled up. He’d been alerted by another citizen to the little boy’s general location.

“When he saw the police officer, that’s when he started crying,” said Colbran. “I’m just glad he was safe and it had a happy ending.”

If Colbran hadn’t already seen the alert on Facebook he would have via telephone. Police used a new tool that night called MY CNN (Community Notification Network), a computer program that rapidly called 47,054 numbers to request community assistance.

Sarnia is the only community in Ontario with MY CNN, said Ron Smith, who manages the system.

When the boy was still missing after nearly six hours Sarnia Police media officer Const. Les Jones issued a release at 8:48 p.m. and alerted the public on the police website, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

An hour later, with the boy still missing, Smith activated MY CNN for the first time since it was purchased for emergencies 18 months ago.

“I called the mayor for permission to use MY CNN for a missing child because we hadn’t found him yet and we were running out of daylight,” Smith said. “We needed to up the ante.”

Within 15 minutes, MY CNN’s computerized system dialed every household listed in the white pages in Sarnia-Lambton, as well as every cell phone owner who has signed up.

MY CNN can alert by text, email, landline, cell phone and fax. It sends alerts for tornados, evacuations, shelter-in-place and boil water orders, and can be programmed for much more.

“This was modern, community-based policing,” said Const. Jones. “The more eyes out looking for a missing child the better our chances.

“I heard of numerous people who got in their cars and went looking.”

“That night, we put alerts out every way we could and citizens responded so amazingly,” said Smith. “We found the boy through social media. That’s something that wouldn’t have happened only a few years ago.”

For details, or to sign up for MY CNN alerts, visit any municipal website in Sarnia-Lambton or the Sarnia Police Services (www.sarniapolice.com) website and click on the MY CNN icon.

 

BY THE NUMBERS – OUTREACH FOR MISSING CHILD

 

– 116,000 saw Facebook post within one hour

– 48,000 Twitter views

– 47,054 landline and cell phones called in 15 minutes

– 79,328 people reached via Sarnia Police Services website.