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3-year-old missing for hours in South Carolina state park found alive, reunited with family

The child, who had been missing since 7:30 p.m. the previous night, was found roughly a mile from where she went missing.

SUMTER COUNTY, S.C. — A child who was the subject of a multi-agency search of a South Carolina state park is OK and is back with her family after several frightful hours.

Sheriff Anthony Dennis announced on Saturday morning that 3-year-old Ruby Heider was found around 11 a.m. in Poinsett State Park in no small part due to the efforts of deputies and several others.

Search partners ranged from local police and park rangers to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Shaw Air Force Base personnel, and even the FBI.

Heider, according to investigators, was camping with her family at the park when around 7:30 p.m. Friday, they called 911 to report her missing. Sheriff Dennis said the family was eating at the clubhouse in the park when the little girl walked off.

The sheriff said initial attempts to track the child from land and air were unsuccessful despite the many resources used.

"We brought in our imaging unit, our drones, we got State Law Enforcement Division to assist us with their aviation team as well, we used bloodhounds and just not able to pick any tracks up or pick her up with the helicopter," he said, adding that the trees may have played a role.

Not long before the child was found, the department asked for prayers and was even preparing for the possibility of allowing volunteers to join the search. But then, the sheriff said he learned of some very positive news.

"One of our deputies found her - several of them were together - and saw her walking along the woodline," Sheriff Dennis said.

The sheriff said Heider has since been checked by medical personnel and is reportedly in good health despite the ordeal. The sheriff added that the previous day's cold snap did bring temperatures into the lower 50s, but they didn't get any lower.

She was found less than a mile from where she went missing and quickly returned to her awaiting family for a tearful reunion that was also emotional for the sheriff.

"Not only the mother and father, parents, were extremely happy that we located her but myself as well as officers from different agencies, we were so ecstatic, we were happy that we were able to locate Ruby," he said.

One camper, Rhonda Mason was at the campground while the search took place and said they spent the evening searching and praying, "it was noisy, we finally stopped and came in the campsite, we didn't go straight to bed we stayed here hoping they'd find her, you know once all the sheriff's department and bloodhounds got here we knew there wasn't much we could do to help so rather than being in the way we wanted to get out of the way so we came back here and started praying for the little girl." 

Prayers that we're answered when she was found, "Oh we we're rejoicing we were rejoicing, and then we went into praising, god is good all the time," said Mason, "I want to thank god the way that it did because it could have been so much worse." 

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