Over 400 volunteers turned out to search for David Riek over the course of Saturday and Sunday, showcasing a community-wide effort to locate a missing Ridgefield local.
As police and fire assembled to scour the roads, trails and woodsy four-mile radius around Florida Hill Road this past Saturday morning to find a missing person, so too did a group of volunteers begin to gather. Ridgefield Police after Riek did not return home at his usual time around 8:30 a.m. By 9:30 a.m., there were 20-25 volunteers looking for Riek, and the numbers grew as the day went on.
It was evident that organization was needed as numbers increased to 50 throughout the day—especially so the volunteers would not work in the areas in which police dogs were assigned—so a neighbor, Diane Johnson, helped coordinate efforts in conjunction with Chief Heather Burford. Given the lack of a scene to investigate, a temporary command post on High Valley Road’s cul-de-sac was established.
Further exacerbating an effort which required a thorough search of a woodsy area with a number of trails, Ridgefield had been placed under a tornado watch. Downpours and wind delayed the search in the afternoon and forbade the use of requested air surveillance. Police and emergency personnel worked with thermal imaging gear throughout the night and had a time-staggered assistance of a dozen police dogs during a search which lasted until 1 p.m. the next day. As night encroached, volunteers were given instructions to show up at Branchville School at 9 a.m., which was to serve as the volunteer command post, the following morning.
Burford showed up at at the school early to get prepared for a long day, but she didn’t expect to see so many others there waiting to do the same.
“At 8 a.m., there were already about 100 citizens waiting for an assignment,” said Burford. Volunteers were given a safety briefing, an assignment in groups of at least four and instructions to check back in.
“Residents from many neighboring towns and emergency personnel from as far away as NYC worked together with Ridgefield’ fire, police and CERT team members under the direction of Burford throughout the morning,” said Johnson in an email to Patch. An estimated 200 volunteers worked in unison with Ridgefield Open Space Rangers and searched the Rail Trail, Florida Refuge, Aldrich Park, Jones Trail, Weir Farm and Nod Refuge properties, she said, while the remaining half of the 412-strong citizen collation “combed all town roads within a four-mile radius” where Riek had last been seen.
The volunteers “had a lot of experience in those areas and were a tremendous asset to us,” said Burford. Those not inspecting the trails had at least one person on watch for traffic safety while the other group members searched the woods near the road, looking to follow small pathways which Riek may have taken. Those who could not participate in the search supplied food and refreshments at the command post.
“It was absolutely a demonstration of what a community is all about and how they can come together when the need arises,” said Burford.
The search was anything but easy.
Sunday weather was not an issue and two aircraft—a helicopter and a fixed wing plane—conducted air surveillance. Burford and Ridgefield Police continued to make sure to keep citizens away from areas being searched by tracking dogs. Not only did they face a large radius to survey, but no one had seen what Riek was wearing that morning. Police searched his wardrobe to deduce what he may have had on, and checked to see if his running shoes contained any kind of mileage-recording device which may have held a GPS locator, which it did not. Riek had left his wallet and ID and cell phone at his home; there was no way of tracking him.
The tragic conclusion of the day came in at 1 p.m. group of volunteers who found Riek’s body, some forty feet off the road and tucked away near some rock formations. It was during the third mile of the search area that he was found. Riek had .
“In this situation, there are no wrong ideas—even a feeling or a hunch was taken seriously,” said Burford. She noted that the search covered an expanse of land difficult to survey. “We don’t live in somewhere with flat wheat fields…our brush is thick and our roads are windy. It’s really discouraging to hear people criticize it [our search efforts]. But those who showed up…who supported us…are true Ridgefielders.”
“It was a new situation for us. We wanted to give everyone who showed up a sense of being involved and being part of the situation. Many sets of eyes and many sets of feet on the ground—that’s the key,” said Burford.