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Missing 2-year-old found in wild area

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
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With so many stories of lost children now days, volunteers were happy to hear a positive ending to a recent ordeal in Becker County.

Around 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Becker County Sheriff's Department was notified that a 2-year-old Fargo girl had wondered off near Height of Land Lake. She had been missing for several hours already. The little girl with brownish-blonde hair, whose name was not released, was staying with her father near the public access on the east side of the lake.

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After an officer came to the house of Wally Rossbach and Linda Thompson-Rossbach, Linda took matters into her own hands.

Wally said he was in a different part of the house when the officer came to his door, but his wife recounted the incident later.

He said she jumped into their golf cart to help search for the missing girl.

Sheriff Tim Gordon said there were numerous neighbors helping in the search. Also helping were representatives from the horse posse, Becker County Auxiliary, Frazee Fire Department and Rescue, Detroit Lakes Police, the Department of Natural Resources and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. The Minnesota State Patrol was also contacted for use of the helicopter and heat-sensitive equipment.

"I was just sick when I got the call -- that's some wild country up there," Gordon said. "It was a no-holds-barred search ... This thing would have gone all night if she had stayed lost."

Rossbach said his wife suggested checking a basement for a house that was being built in the area, but the little girl wasn't there. Determined to help find the girl, she drove the cart along the lakeshore of their property.

Rossbach said his wife eventually found the little girl sitting on their land at a shrine dedicated to Linda's son, who died a couple years ago.

The spot was about 200 yards away from the family complex of a few mobile homes where the girl started her wondering. She had crossed the public access and walked through a wooded area to the shrine, which is on a cleared area overlooking a lake, with lawn chairs and a cross.

The girl eventually came with Linda back to where neighbors, officers and other rescue personnel were located. She was gone for a little over an hour, and was in good condition, with just a few bug bites, Gordon said.

"She was so concerned about the possible loss of this little girl," Rossbach said of his wife. "Frankly, I think she was a hero."

Gordon said it was thanks to a lot of volunteers this ended in a success, not tragedy.

"There is a huge amount of heavy woods, a bog and lake in that country," he said. "Tensions were high for a while."

The girl was under the care of her father, Brandon Gwin, who told officers that he put her down in the house for a nap about 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. That gave her about 90 minutes to wander, and she could have gone in any direction.

With only about three hours of daylight and wild country to search, the sheriff's department pulled out all the stops, calling in help from all available agencies and volunteers.

"We basically called every person to arrive on this one," Gordon said. Searching for small children and dementia patients is always difficult, since they can head off in any direction, following any one of a number of distractions, from a puppy to a body of water.

"You always start with the obvious and recheck the obvious, then expand the search as time goes on," Gordon said. "The neighbors were wonderful -- people took it upon themselves to help out."

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