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Darkness of dementia engulfs Good Samaritan

/ Source: The Associated Press

After hearing news reports about a 75-year-old woman with memory problems who disappeared into the remote Maine woods, Claire Young had a talk with her husband, William, who has dementia.

Snowmobilers had rescued the missing woman. But Claire Young knew it could have ended differently if her 77-year-old husband had been the one missing. She and her husband made a note to keep a closer tabs on his activity.

Strangely, police say, William Young later got a compass out of storage and laid it on his bedroom dresser as he prepared to drive up to the north woods in search of Beverly Rutherford, apparently believing she was still lost.

The compass still lay there three days later, when his frozen body was found 150 miles north of his home in Auburn.

"Mrs. Young said that during the conversation with her husband she expressed some concern that he did not end up in a similar situation," said Lt. Pat Dorian of the Maine Warden Service.

"For some reason, Mr. Young felt compelled to head to the Kokadjo area and find her," Dorian said. "I don't have any doubt in my mind that this is what happened."

People with dementia can often make sense one moment, then behave irrationally the next, said Beth Kallmyer, a spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago. There's no way to know what triggered Young's decision to drive about 150 miles from his home to look for Beverly Rutherford.

"That's the frustrating thing for families — wandering," Kallmyer said.

At least a dozen similar searches have been conducted in the past 20 years in the area where both Young and Beverly Rutherford disappeared, Dorian said.

For some reason, people with mental and physical illnesses appear drawn to the rugged, heavily forested region, Dorian said. But Young's case is apparently the first in which someone felt compelled to search for someone with whom they might have shared a medical condition, he said.

Beverly Rutherford had driven to the area from her home in South Portland and was wearing only one boot when she was found on a snowy, icy trail three days before Young disappeared. She suffered no serious injuries.

Like Rutherford, Young had no family or personal ties to the area, Dorian said. He might have been motivated by a desire to help others in need, Dorian said.

A retired assistant principal at Lisbon High School in southern Maine, Young volunteered with area organizations even after he stopped working, his wife told the Lewiston Sun Journal.

"He was very gentle. Very, very kind," Claire Young told the newspaper. "He just gave and gave and gave. And God gave him the strength to do these things."

Dozens of volunteers joined wardens, dog handlers, two planes and a helicopter in the search for Young, who was reported missing Thursday.

His car was spotted Saturday, and his body was found nine miles the next day at the base of a tree, where he apparently sat down. Officials did not know how long he was dead, and an autopsy is planned.

"It's one of the most extraordinary things I've ever experienced in all my years conducting search and rescues," Dorian said.