Searchers comb Signal for missing woman

Searchers comb Signal for missing woman

May 23rd, 2011 by Kate Belz in News

Stephen Gray, right, hands out maps Sunday to people about to drive neighborhoods looking for the vehicle of missing Signal Mountain woman Gail Palmgren. Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

A month after the disappearance of Gail Palmgren, about 50 local volunteers crisscrossed Signal Mountain roads and trails Sunday in search of the missing woman's crimson Jeep Rubicon - or any other clue that may lead to her.

Volunteers, most in cars, others on ATVs or horses and several on foot, scoured a 30 square-mile region.

The search came up empty but fulfilled the goal of "crossing Signal Mountain off our list, just to make sure we've covered our bases at home," said search organizer and Signal Mountain resident Clive Bonnick.

Palmgren was reported missing April 30 and was last seen by a neighbor in the St. Ives subdivision on Ridgerock Drive. The last signal from Palmgren's cell phone was reported near Mountain Creek Road two days after she went missing.

Because Signal Mountain police and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office have released no specifics of their investigation, Bonnick said the grassroots search groups are forced to start from square one.

"There's no starting point," Bonnick said. "She could still be somewhere in the subdivision, or she could be in another country. We just don't know."

Bonnick said he doesn't know Palmgren, but they have mutual friends.

"A friend of theirs is a friend of mine. We're a small community; we're all in this together," he said.

Several participants said Palmgren's husband, Matthew Palmgren, did not take part in the search. He could not be reached for comment Sunday but said earlier he has hired a private investigator to look for his wife.

Red Bank resident Michael Hudson grew up on Signal Mountain and wanted to put his knowledge of the mountain's roads and trails to use.

On Saturday he combed several roads in his truck, including a dirt road off the end of Kell Road leading to a large strip mine.

"A lot of people think this mountain's populated, but there's still a lot of places up on this mountain that are real rough," Hudson said.

Bonnick added that searchers were looking for more effective ways to search the mountain's bluffs and nearby Suck Creek.

Alaine Gray said her friend Palmgren enjoys the outdoors and had been off-roading in her Jeep a few times. Palmgren had moved to the area about a year ago, and Gray believes she was not intimately acquainted with all the back roads.

"She liked camping, but she liked doing it with her family. I don't think she would have just gone off in the woods by herself, but we just have to check where we can," Gray said.

Today Hamilton County Chancellor Jeff Atherton will decide if Matthew Palmgren will get temporary custody of the couple's two children. He filed paperwork May 6, four days after reporting his wife missing.

Next week, volunteers are planning to organize a search of the Palmgren family's lake house near Wetumpka, Ala., Bonnick said.