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Now missing for week, Derry man a 'vulnerable adult' under new state law

By GRETCHEN M. GROSKY
New Hampshire Union Leader

December 19. 2016 9:23PM
JACK WALSH 

It’s been a week since 63-year-old Jack Walsh walked away from Parkland Medical Center in Derry.

Despite nights of freezing temperatures and snow, his family believes “Uncle Jack” is out there and fine — and they desperately want him home.

“We’re doing this day and night, 24-hour shifts,” Walsh’s niece, Ashley Zaremba, said of the search.

She said her uncle, who has dementia and mental illness, has “got one of those beautiful minds. He’s just simple.”

Walsh is a resident of Pleasant Valley Nursing Home in Derry.

Derry Police Capt. Vern Thomas said Walsh fits the description of a “vulnerable adult,” a definition set by a new state law to issue alerts for missing persons with conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

He asked that anyone with information about Walsh’s whereabouts contact police at 603-432-6111.

Heather Carroll, public policy manager for the New Hampshire Alzheimer’s Association, said the “Vulnerable Adult Alert” was needed to get rid of the mountain of red tape that came with reporting a missing person.

Carroll pointed to the state’s aging population and to a recent study showing that 36 percent of Granite Staters identified with cognition issues live alone.

“There are people that can no longer identify they are having these issues on their own,” Carroll said.

She said the new law is a good tool.

“We’ve had quite a few cases, but this case in Derry is breaking my heart,” Carroll said. “For anyone who wanders around, in 10 minutes it’s considered life-threatening. After 12 hours, it’s usually a death.”

Thomas said his department’s search continues to be “extensive.” He said officers pulled surveillance tapes from local businesses to see if they could spot what direction Walsh was walking. The department brought in a special K-9 team, in hopes the dog could pick up Walsh’s scent. It didn’t.

“That’s a good thing. It means he was not in the woods, not in a snow bank,” Thomas said.

“We can’t say anyone has actually seen him since he left Derry. We have no indications that’s what he’s done,” Thomas said. “Our goal is to find this person safe and sound and as soon as we can.”

Derry police urge anyone who sees Walsh not to approach him, but keep him in sight and call police.

“It is important that information is provided to us directly rather than added to social media,” Thomas said in a news release on Monday.

Not yet on FBI database

Under New Hampshire’s new law, it is up to the state Department of Public Safety to make the final determination if someone is a “vulnerable adult” and is to be listed with the FBI’s national database of missing persons.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, Walsh’s name had not been added. The Department of Public Safety did not respond to questions about the case or the new law on Monday.

Walsh’s family has been using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word. Zaremba said it’s resulted in some tips, though police said none have panned out.

People on social media reported seeing him at The Loop strip mall on Pleasant Valley Street in Methuen, Mass.

Another person reported on social media that they saw him getting out of a car on M Street at Hampton Beach — a street where his grandmother had a cottage decades ago.

This is not the first time Walsh has disappeared. He also ran away in 2005 but came back on his own after two days, Zaremba said.

The new law

Under the previous law, a person could only be labeled as “missing” if a doctor certified their condition, they disappeared from their home, and were reported missing by a family member. Under the new law, police do not need medical certification and it doesn’t matter if the person was last seen at home, a grocery store, or a hospital, as in Walsh’s case.

A nursing home or a staffer at adult day care can now report a person missing. The new law also incudes anyone over the age of 18; health conditions can be anything from diabetes to Alzheimer’s.

It’s similar to “Silver Alerts” issued in 27 other states, in which the media must be notified. New Hampshire does not make use of electronic message boards like other states with older populations, such as Florida and Washington.

“Putting it up on a billboard on Route 3 in Nashua doesn’t make sense in Derry,” said Carroll of the New Hampshire Alzheimer’s Association. “Usually, (missing adults) are found within a one- to two-mile radius ,,, it’s usually them wandering on their own.”

Carroll spoke of a man in Manchester who often wanders but is usually found in one of two places — his childhood home or the Red Arrow Diner.

“He has an open tab at the Red Arrow Diner,” she said. “It’s the first place police look.”

On the road again?

Zaremba said the family feels like he’s on the road again, like he was in the 1970s where he traveled around New England hitchhiking.

“He would get into tractor-trailers. It was a different world back them. He was a different type of person back then,” she said. “He could literally be anywhere.”

Zaremba said Walsh may stick to areas he knows like Route 110 in Massachusetts, the route he knew to get to the beach.

She said they are looking in areas of Route 125 in Plaistow near where he grew up. The family believes he is getting help from good Samaritans along the way.

“If someone might have been helping him, they need to tell us,” she said. “They aren’t in trouble. We’re just looking for where he’s been. We’re hanging on to nothing here.” .

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at ggrosky@unionleader.com or (603) 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging


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