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Missing alert system aids in recovery of mentally disabled man

The A Child is Missing neighborhood response program helped rescue a mentally disabled Medford man who disappeared from his home Friday and was found wandering the streets across town.

The family of Larry Barenchi, 51, phoned police just after 6 p.m. to report that he had left his home on North Columbus Avenue without supervision and disappeared, Medford police said.

Barenchi, who is mentally disabled, cannot care for himself and does not know his own address or phone number, police said.

Medford police and Jackson County Search and Rescue teams combed the west Medford neighborhood, but were unable to locate Barenchi.

Family members said Barenchi did not have a history of walking away from his home unexpectedly.

Officers then requested aid from the A Child is Missing program, which is an automated alert system offered by a Florida nonprofit organization called A Child is Missing.

A recorded message, including a description of Barenchi and his clothing and where he was last seen, saturated neighborhoods within a mile of his home.

The system can place up to 1,000 calls within one minute and has been used to locate missing Jackson County residents in the past.

"It has worked really well for us," Medford police Chief Tim George said. "The name mentions 'a child' but it can also be used for missing adults."

The call-out prompted numerous responses of residents who had spotted Barenchi following his disappearance.

"We had a good response this time," George said. "It really helps."

At around 9:15 p.m., officers were called to the area of Hillcrest Road and Cherry Lane for a report of a disorientated man seen walking along the street.

Officers arrived and found that it was Barenchi and that he was in good health.

A Google maps search shows that Barenchi journeyed nearly six miles across town before he was found. This was coupled with the fact that temperatures Friday night dipped near freezing, putting Barenchi's safety in danger.

"He went quite a ways on his own," George said. "That's a pretty far walk for anyone."

The Medford Police Department began using the A Child is Missing system in 2009. The Jackson County Sheriff's Department was the first agency in Oregon to use the service, signing up in November 2005.

The Florida-based nonprofit provides the service free to law enforcement, thanks to grants and donations, said its website, www.achildismissing.org. Its system uses technicians in Florida who can evaluate satellite images to help guide searchers from afar.

People who rely on cellphones or voice-over-IP service and want notification about missing-person searches in their neighborhoods can add their phone numbers to A Child is Missing's alert list at www.achildismissing.org/sign.asp.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.