Missing children found, family grateful

The Stone family: (front row, left to right) Jeremiah, Olivia, Michaela (back row, left to right) Mike, Jess, Arianna, Cassandra and Lila.
The Stone family: (front row, left to right) Jeremiah, Olivia, Michaela (back row, left to right) Mike, Jess, Arianna, Cassandra and Lila.
Photo by Linda Competillo

It was earlier this month – Saturday, Jan. 11, to be exact – that 10-year-old Olivia Stone and her friend went missing on the Groton Trail System, but it took her mom, Jess Stone, until now to feel ready to share her thoughts and feelings about what she refers to as “the most difficult three and a half hours of my life so far.”

That Saturday was like most Saturdays, but it was a bit out of the ordinary for Jess because she was on her way home from a conference in Kentucky with her friend and business colleague, Loveta Geesey.

As Jess and Geesey were driving and chatting their way home, they had no idea what would soon transpire back in Groton.

That morning, Jess’s older daughter, Cassandra, had taken Olivia and some other children to play at the Groton Memorial Park. At 1:30 p.m., Cassandra granted Olivia and her 10-year-old friend permission to walk a short way up the trail system together with the admonition to return within a very short time.

By 2:15 p.m., the girls had still not returned, Mike Stone arrived to pick them up, and Cassandra tearfully told her dad they were missing. The two of them walked up and searched the trails for about 30 minutes to no avail and then called the Groton Police Department, which immediately secured the trails and launched an official search.

By 3:45 p.m., the GPD’s valiant efforts, as well as those of Jess’ parents, Sam and Cheryl Rose, a handful of close friends and Groton Central School Superintendent Margo Martin and her husband, Greg Martin, had not yet discovered the girls’ whereabouts, so the Groton Fire Department was called in to assist.

The happy ending came when Mike received a call from Olivia around 5 p.m., but in the meantime, GFD chief, Ben Nelson, had mobilized about 15 firefighters, many of whom brought their own all-terrain vehicles to use during the search. They, along with the Groton Police Department and the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department, were doing all possible to locate the missing girls.

Just prior to that phone call, Lee Shurtleff, retired director and fire coordinator of the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response, had contacted the forest rangers to begin mobilizing their K-9 search dogs and was poised to issue an Amber alert next.

Thankfully, those next steps became unnecessary because the girls had eventually found themselves on what Olivia called “a real road.” Until then, Olivia said she was tired and a little scared as they kept trying to find their way out of the woods, but that she was mostly worried about her mom being scared.

Cassandra was going through quite a bit of anxiety herself, feeling responsible and thinking the worst.

“I was scared out of my mind,” she said. “The more people kept asking me the same questions over and over, the more it freaked me out. I was so relieved and happy when they were found, but I hope someone can fix the trail markings better.”

After attempting to find someone in a home who could help them, the girls ended up at 80 Sincerbeaux Rd., where, according to Jess, “the angel who lives there fed them vegetables and water, gave them blankets and let them use her phone to call Mike.”

Publicly thanking that kind lady, whose name they still do not know, is just the beginning of the thanks the Stone family wishes to convey.
While those involved in the search here in Groton were in action mode, Jess was “feeling completely helpless as I rode the almost three hours I waited for answers.”

“I was able to coordinate some efforts that kept me calm, and I have to thank Loveta for being a huge part of that,” Jess said.

Geesey had been part of a search and rescue team in Alaska, so her help was invaluable to Jess.

Jess also said that not being able to be there herself had the potential to put her “in a panicked frenzy,” but in addition to her close relationship with God, knowing that so many people had made finding the girls a priority really helped her transition into a task-oriented mode from the car as she did the things Geesey recommended.

Jess said she has always believed community service is important because her parents, Sam and Cheryl Rose, both coached youth sports. Sam has been an ambulance driver for the GFD for the past 30 years, and Mike Stone has been a member of the GFD since 2006.

“I remember years of evenings and holidays where my dad ran ambulance,” Jess said. “Then I married Mike, so I continued to have weekends, evenings and holidays of being on call. I understood the importance of it, but I began to get frustrated and to really despise what I perceived as my husband being taken away from our family.”

On Jan. 11, that pivotally changed for Jess.

“Selfless members of the GFD and so many others came to our aid,” she said. “Thankfully, the girls were found unharmed. It took me a couple of days to finally be able to process.”

Jess shared the most powerful realization that came to her after that day.

“My crisis that day seemed like the most important thing in my life, and when my call for help went out, it was answered,” she said. “Because of that, my perspective has changed, and I now realize that those people whose situations call my husband out have their crisis as number one in their lives, so who am I to minimize someone else’s emergency?”

There is so much more Jess would have liked to convey, but it is best summed up with this: “I’ve always known we have an amazing community, but situations like this are tangible proof.”

Mike and Jess, Cassandra and Olivia, Sam and Cheryl and the entire Stone/Rose family would like to thank all those involved – those already mentioned, as well as the spouses of the GPD and the GFD who willingly, or maybe not so willingly, give up their spouse for others’ emergencies, the dear friends who also came out to help search and the friends and members of Groton Assembly of God who were praying the entire time.

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, lmc10@cornell.edu or 607-227-4922.

In brief:

GFD chicken barbecue

The Groton Fire Department will hold a chicken barbecue in front of the fire station from 10 a.m. until gone Saturday, Feb. 1. Full dinners will be available for $10 each, half-chicken only is $8. They will not be accepting any pre-orders.

Ridge Runners spaghetti supper

The Ridge Runners of Groton Snowmobile Club will hold a spaghetti supper from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8 at its clubhouse, 748 Salt Rd., one mile north of Route 90. Meals include all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meatballs, salad bar, dessert bar and beverage.

Cost is $9 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and $6 for children age 5-12. Children age 4 and under may eat for free. This is a perfect way to enjoy a unique dining experience in a rustic country setting. Take-out dinners are also available.

Homicide at the library

Did that grab your attention? Join retired Buffalo Police Dept. homicide detective, Lauren Riley, as she talks about her cold case detective series at the Groton Public Library at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10. The library will have her books available to borrow or one may purchase an autographed copy to take home.


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