Carter County Sheriff’s Office provides update on Thursday’s missing person search

Dozens of vehicles patrolled the small street late Thursday night, and headlights and flashing bursts of red and blue lit up the pitch-black landscape as dozens of first responders combed the river for what they heard was a young girl in danger.

Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford spoke to the media Friday morning to discuss the previous night’s missing person search on Lovers Lane.

After a five-hour search that involved every form of first responders including volunteer fire departments, both city and county police departments and Wings Air Rescue, not only did the Sheriff’s Office not find any evidence of a missing person in the river, but Lunceford said the department is undergoing an investigation to determine whether the 911 caller intentionally lied to dispatch.

“Around 6:15 p.m. he said he heard a yell for help coming from the river,” Lunceford said. “After an extremely extensive search, […] I decided to call off the search.”

The report said the man also saw a backpack floating in the river at the time, prompting his call to 911.

Lunceford said he was “suspicious from the beginning,” saying the caller, Landon Garland, held a conflicting report of the situation when compared to the 10 to 12-year-old boy who was with him.

Later in the investigation, he said dispatch found 18-19 calls to 911 dispatch within the past year, almost all of which were false reports.

Lunceford said the last thing Garland told officers that night was “Well, maybe it was the adrenaline,” and those involved in the search did not return to the river the following morning.

“It has been 17 hours since we got the call, and there has not been a missing person report filed,” Lunceford said during the interview. “At this point, we are pretty confident there is no child in the river.”

If the investigation determines Garland intentionally falsified his report, Lunceford said the resulting charge would be a misdemeanor for falsely filing a report.

The five-hour search was not without cost for the county. Almost every form of first responder came to assist in the hunt, and even the Tennessee Valley Authority shut down generation of the river in order to make the search easier. Overall, Lunceford said the search cost several thousand dollars to undertake.

At one point, an individual assisting in the search fell into the river, forcing several responders to stop and help the person get back on dry land.

“That river is dangerous,” Lunceford said. “The professionals are equipped to handle situations like this.”

The search did locate the backpack from Garland’s report as well as another, but Lunceford said the contents of neither bag matched the profile of a young girl.

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