University News

WIU Departments, Students Play Part in Search for Missing McDonough County Woman

February 26, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – A search for a missing rural Macomb woman late last week was enhanced by the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center at Western Illinois University, the WIU Office of Public Safety (OPS) and several students from the law enforcement and emergency management academic programs.

According to a press release from the McDonough County Sheriff's Department, the woman was last seen about 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22. Searchers located her in a heavily wooded area, not far from her home, about 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 23, injured and immobile.

GIS Center Director Chad Sperry said the search on Thursday was ongoing until rain hampered it about 11 p.m. Searchers then gathered at 8 a.m. Friday, with around 20 additional volunteers, and began a ground search. Sperry said rescue workers heard the woman yelling for help and quickly located her.

"It was a wave of emotion," he said. "It was a pretty somber moment."

Those looking for the woman included search and rescue teams from Mercer, Brown and Peoria counties, the McDonough County Sheriff's Department, firefighters from Emmet-Chalmers, Industry, Colchester, Adair and Bushnell, the Illinois State Police and McDonough County Emergency Service Disaster Agency Director Dan Kreps.

Sperry said his office had its drone and a thermal camera to assist with the effort. The GIS Center also supplied current aerial photograph maps and high-resolution topographical mapping to the volunteer ground search teams.

"Chad has helped us on multiple occasions and provides a very valuable tool/asset to the sheriff's office," said McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker.

Sperry said several WIU students who have experience working in the GIS Center also volunteered to help with field operations and office support.

"The WIU GIS Center's involvement in the search and rescue is an example of a strong university and community partnership at the highest level," said WIU Department of Geography Chair Samuel Thompson. "I have always been proud of the center's tentacles in the sub-region, including offering its services to community entities when a need arises. Kudos to Chad Sperry, Kei Nozaki and our students."

OPS Director Scott Harris said his office sent one officer to help with the search, as well as sent some additional radio equipment.

For more information on the GIS Center at WIU, visit

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Office of University Communications & Marketing