The family of a 64-year-old Coober Pedy elder, who has shown signs of dementia and has been missing for more than a week, is pleading for more resources to be devoted to the search for her.
SA Police say the last confirmed sighting of Shirley Williams was at the Coober Pedy Hospital on Monday, December 28, 2020, before her family reported her missing on Thursday, December 31.
A police aerial searched for Ms Williams was conducted on Sunday and yesterday, but was called off this morning, leaving a group of 30 authorities and 20 family members to continue the land search.
Coober Pedy is an opal mining town in outback South Australia, where mine shafts in the ground are common.
Ms William’s nephew, Jonathon Fatt-Clifton, said while the family appreciated the assistance so far, they were concerned about the speed of the search.
“The family realise that it’s Christmas, and we appreciate everything that is being done,” he said.
“But I think the emergency around this, with Aunty Shirley having signs of dementia, she’s in her 60s, we just would like every possible resource given to this situation so that we can do the best we can to find this little old Aboriginal lady.
‘She may have got disoriented’
Mr Fatt-Clifton said despite Ms Williams showing signs of illness, she had not been lost before.
“She had signs of dementia, but she could hold a conversation, she could talk, she could communicate with people,” he said.
“But we just don’t know with dementia, maybe one of these particular days she may have got disoriented.
“The family knew that’s what she would do, and would keep an eye out for her.”
Mr Fatt-Clifton said Ms William’s family realised she was missing around Tuesday or Wednesday last week.
“There were whispers among the family about Aunty Shirley not being spotted around town, and family were asking have we seen her,” Mr Fatt-Clifton said.
He said the family initially thought she might have been given a lift to another part of the state, but it soon became apparent she had not.
Police, family seek public help
SA Police Superintendent Paul Roberts said Ms Williams was wearing a grey hoodie, grey pants and at her last confirmed sighting at the Coober Pedy Hospital, which she left without being officially discharged.
“Shirley left the hospital of her own volition,” he said.
Superintendent Roberts said other possible sightings of Ms Williams in the town after December 28 could not be confirmed.
He defended the police response to the first missing person’s report, saying that as the hospital is within the township, a land search was deemed sufficient.
“A family member that’s a tracker has been doing some searching independent of ours, and we’ve had a police officer embedded with the family to support them, and make sure we’re all working together.”
Both the family and police are pleading with any tourists or locals who were in Coober Pedy over the New Year’s period to come forward if they have CCTV, dash cam footage or any information that may assist with the search.
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