The south Forsyth area was a hive of activity for several days this week as volunteers and emergency responders from all over the region cast a wide net in an attempt to find missing UGA student and Lambert High School grad Byron Grogan.
According to Cpl. Doug Rainwater of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Grogan was reported missing early Tuesday morning after his family discovered the 19-year-old never returned from a late-night run at Chattahoochee Pointe Park in south Forsyth. Shortly after, searchers found Grogan’s car, wallet, phone and keys in the park’s parking area and called 911.
Authorities said that by the end of day Tuesday the park and its surrounding area had been searched from top to bottom by volunteers and law enforcement, and the search would continue into the following day. But at about 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, over 24 hours after being reported missing, Grogan returned home of his own free will, telling authorities that he had been lost in the woods, Rainwater said.
Due to the rough and heavily-wooded terrain in certain areas of the park, volunteers and law enforcement spent hours searching and researching the trails and woods for any sign of Grogan.
"We have done every trail, every green space, but you always do it a second and third time because you don't want to miss anything, you don't want to miss him," Rainwater said at 2:45 Tuesday afternoon.
"Like right over there, that red sign," he said, pointing a hundred yards or so of into the trees. "There’s a trail right there and you wouldn’t know it .... And once you get on that trail, there might be seven other trails that lead off from there."
After the incident, Division Chief Jason Shivers, a spokesman for the Forsyth County Fire Department, said that the incident was a perfect example of the “symbiotic” relationship between different law enforcement agencies.
He said that in the past years many of the different local law enforcement agencies have trained together, for situations just like this one, in preparation for the day that training and relationship was necessary.
“All these agencies … We have trained together for incidents just like this,” Shivers said. "And that is what you are seeing today, training and relationships coming together."
Rainwater said that during the incident they deployed over 100 volunteer searchers; 35 law enforcement officers from various agencies, including the U.S. Park Service as well as fire departments from Forsyth County, Johns Creek and Gwinnett County; boats from the Department of Natural Resources; and a Georgia State Patrol helicopter.
In addition to those resources, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office also enlisted the help of 20 inmates from the Forsyth County Jail to assist deputies in searching heavy brush and hard to reach places along the river.
He said that each of the inmates volunteered for the job and were some of the “best of the best at the jail” — non-violent misdemeanor and low-level crime inmates.
“We needed some resources and we needed them quick, because in a situation like this time is of the essence,” Rainwater said. “And it worked out well.”
At 3 p.m. Tuesday, the inmates were brought in on buses, given sunscreen, water and instructions, and set out into the underbrush to search in pairs of four or five. For hours, the 20 men searched different areas along the river.
Rainwater said that this is the first time in recent memory they have tapped into the inmate workforce for help during a critical incident, and it will likely remain an option in the future.
“This gives them a chance to be out and to do something good, to give back,” he said.
James Tigue coached Grogan with the Lambert boys cross country team. Together, they helped the Longhorns win the Georgia High School Association Class 7A state championship in 2016. On Tuesday, he was right in the midst of the search effort.
For Tigue, it number of local volunteers and uniformed emergency responders that spent the day searching – as well as people that showed up, for a minute or an hour, to drop off water, food and praise – was an indication of the community spirit in Forsyth County.
"We had kids from South Forsyth (High School) out to help ... and a coach at West (Forsyth High School)," Tigue said. "That's pretty amazing."
Joined by his wife, a horde of Lambert students and other volunteers, at about 4:45 Tuesday afternoon, Tigue made one last push, searching an area of fields, heavy brush and gravel paths that sit directly between the Bridleton subdivision and the wooded park area.
"This is all stuff that we have searched before," Tigue said, pointing out across the field.
After nearly an hour of walking over the area, Tigue's group headed back to the park pavilion to regroup.
As he walked back to the pavilion, Tigue said that Grogan was a "great kid to coach" who lived to run with his team.
"I know it sounds clichéd, but he is just a great kid," Tigue said.
The circumstances surrounding Grogan’s disappearance and whereabouts during the time he was missing are still being investigated, according to Rainwater.