HIGHLAND CO. — On Tuesday morning, volunteers and professional search and rescue team members met at the Madison Township building to continue the search for 18-year-old McClain High School senior Madison Noel Bell, who authorities say has been missing since Sunday morning.
According to Andrew Surritt III, the founder of Rescue 101 Search and Rescue in South Salem, his team and volunteers have been searching local wooded areas, culverts and other places Bell could hide since Sunday night. Surritt said his team is working off the premise that Bell is still in the area.
“It’s hard to conduct search operations that are multi-county or multi-state for a missing person as far as ground search and rescue goes,” Surritt said. “The most important thing is to get Maddie’s information out to the public, not only locally but statewide and nationwide, in case it’s an abduction.”
Surritt added, “As far as search and rescue is concerned, it’s unknown if she was kidnapped.”
Surritt told The Times-Gazette that specialized teams from Dayton joined the search Tuesday. Other volunteers helped pass out fliers in nearby communities.
“The support from the community is overwhelming,” Surritt said. “I’ve never seen a search that I’ve been on have the amount of spontaneous volunteers show up in the first couple days that we have here.”
Mark Sellers, who has search-and-rescue training and specializes in online mapping, said this is the first time he’s joined a search as a private citizen. He found community members’ attitude encouraging, even while searching in the rain.
“The spirits last night were like, ‘We don’t care about rain and lightning — we want to go find her.’ They had a really, really good attitude,” Sellers said. “You can look at the averages and say, ‘This is what’s most likely,’ but it only takes 1 percent or a fraction of a percent. We’re looking at all the options and hoping for the best results.”
Bell’s mother, Melissa Montavon, also remarked on the community’s involvement in the search for her daughter.
“The community has come together in an amazing way. Students, teachers, our extended family, friends, even strangers we don’t know — there have been well over 300 people for every day searching,” Montavon said. “I’ve done so many news interviews that I can’t even keep track. I want to get her picture across the U.S., so if anyone sees her at all, they’ll recognize her.”
Highland County residents and beyond are coming together to support Bell, her family and those searching.
Community members have been donating food and other items to support those participating in the search since Sunday night, according to Brenda Lester, a Greenfield resident who is helping keep track of donations.
Greenfield Search and Rescue created a Facebook group called “Bring Maddie Bell Home,” according to a post by group administrator Brandi Seely, where people can share information.
In a Tuesday Facebook post, the Greenfield Church of Christ announced it will hold a prayer vigil for Bell on Wednesday, May 20 beginning at 8 p.m. The vigil will be held, rain or shine, in the church parking lot at 955 Jefferson St., and will be live-streamed on the church’s Facebook page.
“I pray she’s not out in the weather. I hope she’s not hungry or hurt or sick,” Montavon said. “I’m not going to stop looking for her. I’m not going to sleep until we find her. I’m going to get her face out to every news organization that I can. I’m going to get her out nationwide so every state sees her face. She’s not going to be labeled as a typical runaway. She’s not that girl. She’s too responsible. She always checked in. She never took anything that would prepare for her to leave. She loved her family, she loved her boyfriend, she loved her dogs.”
Bell reportedly went missing Sunday morning after she left her home to go tanning.
“At approximately 10 a.m., [Bell] told her mom she was going tanning, left her residence to go to the Country Corner Market to go tanning, and never made it there,” Surritt said. “After she was gone for about an hour, her mom tried to reach out to her and was unable to get a hold of her. When they found her car at the church without her in it, that’s when they contacted law enforcement.”
Bell’s car was found at the Good Shepherd Church, located near the corner of SR 28 and Centerfield Road, a few hundred feet from Country Corner Market. According to Montavon, Bell’s keys were still in the ignition, the car was unlocked, and the windows were up. Bell’s phone, as well as the coins and paper money in the change compartment, were still in her car.
In a Monday news release, Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera said his office received a call from Montavon at 11:22 a.m. on Sunday, and it was believed her daughter hadn’t made it to the tanning appointment.
Deputies arrived and met with the family. The news release said the incident is under active investigation by the Highland County and Ross County sheriff’s offices, the Greenfield Police Department and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Montavon said the church’s cameras were all “dummies,” but a security camera at Country Corner Market caught footage of the side profile of a white car parked in the church parking lot.
“I’ve never been told by any authorities about a make or model,” Montavon said. “There were rumors it was a Nissan, there were rumors it was a Ford, but the authorities have not told me.”
According to Barrera, information was obtained concerning a white vehicle with California license tags that was located in the church’s parking lot along with Bell’s car, and a vehicle matching that description was located at a Hillsboro business, but a follow-up investigation revealed it wasn’t the vehicle the deputies were looking for.
On Tuesday, Montavon told The Times-Gazette, “She (Bell) would never just leave. She’s not that kind of person. She always checked in with me, whether she was going to be five minutes late, she would text and say, ‘Mom, I’m running late, don’t worry. I’ll be back. There was a line at McDonald’s’ and this or that.”
Montavon added that Bell also didn’t take items with her that would indicate she planned to leave.
“She would not leave her glasses, her makeup, her cell phone, her anything like that,” Montavon said. “She wouldn’t leave those things if she was planning on leaving. She didn’t take any other clothes.”
According to Montavon, Bell also said, “I’ll be right back,” before leaving for Country Corner Market.
Bell’s graduation ceremony was on May 10, and Montavon said Bell was looking forward to this week, which the Greenfield Exempted Village School District has dubbed “Graduation Week.”
According to the missing person report, Madison Noel Bell is Caucasian, stands 5-7 and weighs around 125 pounds. She has brown, shoulder-length hair and brown eyes, though she may be wearing blue or gray cosmetic contact lenses.
Montavon told The Times-Gazette that Bell has a small, dainty cross tattoo on the back of her neck and a large ghost tattoo on the left side of her abdomen. Bell also has tape-in hair extensions and a left nostril piercing.
Montavon stated in a Facebook post that she was in a different part of the house when Bell left, so she’s unsure what Bell was wearing.
Authorities ask that anyone who has information on Bell’s whereabouts call 9-1-1, the Highland County Sheriff’s Office at 937-393-1421, or the Ross County Sheriff’s Office at 740-773-1185.
According to an administrator post in the “Bring Maddie Bell Home” Facebook group, Greenfield Search and Rescue is seeking donations of items like protein and granola bars, nuts, electrolyte sticks, Propel, Pedialyte, bug repellent, sunscreen, and rain ponchos. The group has plenty of water but is seeking donations of warm meals for lunch. Due to COVID-19 concerns, all food items must be individually packaged.
The group is not currently accepting monetary donations.