Police: Missing teenager found safe

Hunter Valant

A neighbor found a missing Lawrence teenager safe in a mini barn Tuesday night.

The stepmother of 19-year-old Hunter Valant, who has autism and had been missing since Monday evening, says her son is cold, tired and scared, but otherwise okay. He is being taken to Community North hospital as a precaution.

Police, firefighters, urban search and rescue teams and several volunteers had joined family members in searching for Valant for nearly 28 hours before he was found.

The man's stepmother, Sherry Minkis, said a neighbor thought someone had broken into their home, but having heard the story of Valant's disappearance, checked the mini barn, where they found Valant lying with a blanket and pillow. 

Earlier Tuesday, volunteers found a pair of shoes and socks that family members verified belong to Valant.

Those volunteers met Tuesday evening at Sunrise Methodist Church at 75th and Oaklandon to resume a search. They are planning to mobilize by 6:00 pm. They're looking for anyone with access to printers, laptops, dry warm clothes and flashlights.

Help Us Find Hunter Valant Facebook group

Hunter is 5'9" and weighs approximately 140 pounds. He is bald and was last seen wearing a black jacket, gray shirt and maroon sweat pants.

IMPD Missing Persons Detectives are still actively working this case and request that media and public please call 321-327-3811 or 317-327-6160 with any information on the whereabouts of Valant.

"Investigators with IMPD's Missing Persons Unit have requested that residents in the area check their garages, storage sheds, and any detached structure, but caution residents to not go into the woods attempting to look for Hunter," IMPD Ofc. Kendale Adams wrote in a release. "This type of action could unnecessarily endanger one's own personal safety and should be left to public safety and first responder personnel to conduct."

Family members say Hunter may run from police. He has the mental capacity of a nine- or ten-year-old child.

His stepmother, Sherry Minkis, says if you come across Hunter, handle him with care.

"It would be best to let him know that there are a lot of people that really love him and that they are very concerned about him and that he is not in trouble," she said.

Investigators reviewed video of Hunter from security cameras at a Subway sandwich shop in the Geist Center strip mall. Family members say he unsuccessfully tried to use coupons to get something to eat, then walked next door to a Papa John's restaurant to buy pizza.

Police thought he might have gone into a wooded area just west of Oaklandon Road south of Fox Road. Family members believe a cell tower in the area may have sent a signal to Hunter's cell phone, but the phone is turned off.

The Urban Search and Rescue Team staged in east end The Marsh Plaza located at 79th and Oaklandon Road, but they ended their search Tuesday afternoon.

Volunteers and family members took up their own search around 3 p.m. Tuesday.

"We are hoping that he is somewhere safe and maybe he has found some warm shelter," said Minkis. "All of the places that we thought he might have been investigated, so we are really at a loss at this point."

Kim Suess is one of the search volunteers. Her son, who has autism, went missing a few years ago.

"They make you stay at home while the search party is out looking and you want to be out there looking. It's gut wrenching," Suess said.

Tuesday night, the family's concerns grew.

"We're past the 24 hour mark now, so of course we're very, very anxious," Minkis told Eyewitness News.

Urban Search and Rescue searched past dark fall Tuesday for Hunter, before calling off their efforts at 9:30.

Hunter's family promised to keep looking for him.

"Our intention is to keep looking until we find Hunter," said Minkis.

Dozens of volunteers also showed up at an area church to help.

"If it were my child, I would want someone to help me," said Amy Cookston.

"I've been searching in the woods behind my house for the last hour or so, so I just came here to see what more I can do," added Lanny Goad.

The discovery of Hunter's shoes and socks Tuesday afternoon at 79th and Oaklandon offered some comfort he was still close by, but also brought fears for his well being in the cold and wet conditions.

"We're really concerned that we're getting down to some critical moments here of really being able to locate him," explained his stepmother.

According to the teen's family, this isn't the first time Hunter has disappeared, but he has never been gone for this long.

"We usually found him in two to three hours," said Minkis.

One safeguard Hunter's family used to have in case he wandered away was a bracelet Hunter wore on his wrist or ankle through a program called Project Life Saver. That bracelet sends out a frequency emergency crews can track. Hunter though didn't have that bracelet on when he disappeared.

"My understanding is that the sponsorship for the funding that came from that expired or changed hands and it no longer existed," said Minkis.

A spokesperson with Project Life Saver told Eyewitness News at one time Hunter had been with Project Life Saver, but was not a client for the past year. That same official said Hunter would have received his bracelet from the Indianapolis Fire Department. The bracelets cost over $300, but some departments offer help to cover the cost.

Project Life Saver could not say why Hunter was no longer part of their program.

The Project Life Saver bracelets have led to the safe return of thousands of children and older people.

And they were right.  He was found very close to his own home. Despite the efforts of dozens of volunteers, police officers and firefighters, it was people who saw news reports about the teen's disappearance, then looked around and found him around 10:45 p.m. Tuesday night. After more than 24 hours missing.

The happy resolution required people doing what police and fire officials had asked them to do - check their property and look for Hunter.  After he was seen on video surveillance cameras at area businesses, searches figured he was close.