PIERRE S.D. — The sheriff's department in South Dakota's most populous western county has announced the suspension of an intensive search for Serenity Dennard, the 9-year-old girl who nearly two years ago escaped her Black Hills group home in frigid temperatures and has not been seen since.
A statement attributed to the Pennington County Sheriff's Department in Rapid City, S.D., on Thursday, Jan. 28, said authorities and other agencies had interviewed over 500 people, traversed 6,000 miles of rugged Black Hills terrain and searched the region with dogs and by air, but they'd run out of fresh leads.
"Absent new information," the statement read, "the search has been suspended."
The Dennard disappearance from a children's home engulfed Black Hills communities and surrounding region two years ago, with many residents frustrated by a delayed response to the girl's runaway by the home's staff.
On Feb. 3, 2019, Dennard fled from employees at Black Hills Children's Home outside Rockerville, S.D., in a rocky and remote section of the hills, intersected by only a few roads northeast of Keystone. Temperatures hovered around zero.
State investigations later faulted staff for waiting over 90 minutes to alert 911 about Dennard's flight.
Dennard was last seen with only a long-sleeved gray shirt, blue jeans, and black snow boots, the sheriff's department said.
Searches have been ongoing since, involving half-a-dozen state and federal authorities including the FBI. Investigators have interviewed staff as well as Dennard's adoptive and biological parents. Still, they've yet to find her or any remains.
Local authorities said in Thursday's statement that the investigation will "remain open" and the public is encouraged "to report any new information or tips."
Dennard had been placed with the Children's Home by adoptive parents, and a report from the state Department of Social Services noted the girl had made runaway attempts in the past.
A separate investigation by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services faulted a disorganized search on lack of training for staff. The Children's Home is owned by Children's Home Society and admits minors with special behavioral and mental health needs.
In a statement emailed to Forum News Service on Friday, Department of Social Services Secretary Laurie Gill said following Dennard's disappearance, "a corrective action plan was developed for Black Hills Children's Home addressing issues related to emergency reporting; training on revised runaway policy and procedures; runaway drills; updated treatment plans, and staff training."
Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom told The Rapid City Journal on Thursday that his department's most recent search came earlier this month. He also hypothesized that her body may've been swept away in spring flood waters.
"Our collective thoughts and prayers remain with Serenity Dennard's family," said the sheriff's department in the news release.