Richland County, SC (WLTX) - Forestry and law enforcement officials from multiple agencies continue to search for signs of a missing father and his two children in the Congaree National Park.
J.R. Kimbler, his 10-year-old son Dakota, and his 6-year-old daughter Jade were last seen by park officials around 5 p.m. Saturday while beginning a hike from the visitor's center.
The mother of the children, Tammy Ballard--who doesn't live with Kimbler--said she'd taken her children to Kimbler earlier in the day so they could spend the day with him. Around 8:30 Saturday night, she received a message from one of Kimbler's friends saying that Kimbler had texted him saying that he was lost and needed help.
Ballard said she then called law enforcement and drove to the park. She says Kimbler had never been to the park before.
Since then, multiple agencies have brought resources to search the estimated 27,000 acres of the park. As of mid-Monday afternoon, about a third of the park had been searched by ground. Dana Soehn, a spokesperson for the National Parks Service, said the park will be closed while crews conduct their efforts.
Trees damaged by last winter's ice storms and high waters have make the search more difficult.
"What is complicated for us is that it's a floodplain forest, so there are areas of standing water we have obstacles of vine, trees, downed trees, says Lauren Gurniewicz with the park.
Kimbler works for a cab company, and his vehicle was found at the park. Ballard says items found in the car lead her to believe this was to have been a quick trip.
"I think that they just came intending on staying a couple of hours and then they got lost, because he had left his cigarettes and lighter in his cab and he's a heavy smoker," Ballard said. "That makes me think he wasn't planning on being away from the car for very long."
"He's a good daddy," she added. "I don't feel that there's any way he would have let anything intentionally happen to them."
She says she's been assisting the searchers to try and find her children.
"I've been looking, walking the trails myself...we don't know what to do. We can't find them."
Crews planned to search until dark Monday, then resume their efforts early Tuesday morning. Officials say they are concerned about storms that are forecast to affect the region Tuesday afternoon.