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The nose knows: K9 cop tracks, finds lost child

SWEETWATER COUNTY, WYO – When Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office got the call to assist on the search for a missing 4-year-old in Rock Springs last weekend, they knew it was a job for Jara and her handler Deputy Derek Morrell.

On Sunday, July 28, the Rock Springs Police Department asked for assistance in a search of the 900 block of Jefferson Avenue in Rock Springs.

The lost boy’s mother reported to police that her child wandered out of the yard while playing with their dogs. She looked for him but could not find him anywhere.

After 15-20 minutes of searching she called 911. Dispatchers got a physical description of the child as well as additional information that the boy also has some developmental disabilities that may inhibit his ability to communicate.

Minutes later, sheriff’s deputies and RSPD officers arrived in the area and began canvassing the surrounding neighborhood in vehicles and on foot in search of the missing boy.

At approximately 6:25 pm, a sheriff’s office canine handler, Deputy Sheriff Derek Morrell, and his canine partner, K9 Deputy Jara, deployed from the residence in an effort to track the child.  Jara, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, picked up a scent almost immediately.

The dog began dragging her human partner down an alley near Thompson Street between Jefferson and Washington. It was all the deputy could do to keep up. Jara then stopped dead at a parked car in the alleyway and alerted. She was sure something was in that car.

Deputy Morrell peered inside the vehicle’s window and saw a small boy that fit the description of the missing child curled up on the driver’s side floorboard. He would have never seen that child or thought to look in the car.

But the ordeal wasn’t over yet. With temperatures hovering around 88 degrees, getting the boy out of the car was paramount. Officers did not want to smash the windows of the vehicle if they didn’t have to.

Rock Springs PD was able to quickly run the tags identify an owner who lived nearby and was, thankfully, home at the time. The keys were handed over to police who opened the vehicle and got the boy out.

“The child was crying. His face was flushed and he was sweating,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Deputy Jason Mowers. He did not speculate on how much more time the boy could have survived in there, but it likely was not very long.

It is still unknown how the missing child got into the car. Likely, said Mowers, it was unlocked when he climbed in and somehow locked it behind him.

Morrell is a nine-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. He is currently assigned as team leader of the canine program and also works as a field training officer. He’s been paired with Jara since 2016.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to get to work with Jara,” said Morrell. “Most of the time, I’m on the dumb end of the leash with her leading the way. She’s an amazing asset to our department and the community we serve. I believe police K9 programs are one of foremost effective and versatile tools law enforcement can have.”

Jara was obtained from K9 Working Dogs International LLC, purchased, in part, through the use of the agency’s drug seizure fund.

In a letter commending Morrell and Jara for their role in this incident, sheriff’s office patrol supervisor Sergeant Matt Bartolotta, wrote: “Deputy Morrell’s and Deputy Jara’s actions may have very well saved this child’s life. Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and the citizens of Sweetwater County are lucky to have a duo like them.”

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