Search continues for missing Chesapeake woman with dementia

(Photos: Brandi Cummings, left/Family photos)

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is leading the search for Juanita Coffield, 76, who went missing from her home on Saturday.

Her family spoke to 10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings on Tuesday.

“We miss her. We’re concerned for her safety so we just want her to return back to us safe and sound and just to know where she’s at,” Connie Coffield, Juanita Coffield’s daughter-in-law said. “It’s been tough.”

The family believes Juanita Coffield left her home on Benefit Road sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. on Saturday.

“We don’t really know at this point where she went,” Coffield said.

Coffield said her mother-in-law often used the nickname “Nita Love.” She was once a popular figure in parades — known as the “Jingle bell lady.” The bell around her neck is something Coffield says Juanita wore every day.

Photos: Search for Juanita Coffield

The family started to search.

“We’ve actually went and looked down some of the back roads. We even rode down Route 17 to the first rest stop in Carolina just to see if it’s a possibility that maybe she headed South,” she said.

But so far their searches and the work of Emergency Management teams have come up empty. They’re staying positive.

“In most of these cases, we are successful most of the time,” Mark Eggeman with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said.

“I’m not really too concerned as far as the survivability aspect yet at this point obviously if you went for three or four days without food you too would be hungry but that is not is not necessary critical in and of itself. Water is more of the issue,” Eggman said.

With dogs, on foot, and by air, teams have been actively searching for Coffield since Saturday.

“We still have people in the primary areas were about a half mile out from around the house. We have people in the woods people working any kind of streams along the ditch areas and things like that. We have k-9 teams and ground teams out today,” Eggeman said.

The family told 10 On Your Side one K-9 picked up a scent a few houses down, but lost it.

Crews say they don’t have any leads in the case and the wooded areas are making it difficult for searchers.

“It may take them longer to search an area some of that is slowing us down a little bit, but it’s not stopping,” Eggeman said.

Coffield was wearing a red baseball style shirt with red sleeves and blue pants Friday night. The family said they now think she left with something else.

“She’s actually taken her spare set of shoes, so we know that she has a change of clothes,” Coffield said.

The family has no idea where she went or how she got there. They say the grandmother doesn’t drive.

10 On Your Side has learned this isn’t the first time Coffield has walked away without them knowing. It happened a few months ago, but they found her down the street inside a neighbor’s house.

“She just walked into the driveway and went into the house,” Coffield said.

They have some theories about what may have happened this time.

“I don’t know if maybe she might have flagged somebody down and hitchhiked somewhere else,” according to Coffield. “Our main concern is we just want to make sure she’s safe.”

Teams from as far away as Winchester have been helping in the search.

Wednesday crews continued their search. One team allowed 10 On Your Side to walk with them.

WAVY News found out it’s not easy ground to cover. However, dozens of men and women are taking turns fighting the insects, pushing back the trees and wading through the mud to search for the missing grandmother.

“Right now, were searching a grid that we’ve been given as a task. We have a certain area that we have to cover,” Derrick  Hill with Suffolk Fire and Rescue explained. “We’ll walk it in a line and we’re looking back and forth, up and down and backwards.”

This is only his second search of his career. This one is a complex task considering what they’re up against.

“All the brush, the weather, the terrain, not knowing where she is, time,” Hill said. “You got the mosquitoes you’ve got to deal with. You’ve got the thick brush, possible encounters. We’ve had a few people run into some snakes.”

According to a Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokesman, crews have found some items during their search in the woods, but they can’t connect it to Juanita Coffield.

Mark Eggeman told Cummings after the WAVY broadcast on Tuesday, they started to get help from the public.

“We are getting some phone calls and hopefully that will turn into some leads for us,” he said.

Eggeman says Thursday, the search area will be extended.

“We’re just pushing farther out. We’re still trying to cover area — some of them we have not been into yet,” he said.

As the crews do all they can to find her, they’re staying positive despite the rough road.

“I’m still hopeful that she’s still within the time frame of survivability,” Eggeman said.