A 25-year-old Athens woman who had been missing for nearly a month was found alive and well in Florida, authorities reported late Saturday afternoon.
Ivy Dawn Merck turned up in Miami, where she has been reunited with her parents, according to message that was posted about 6:30 p.m. on the Facebook page of the Camden County Sheriff’s Office in southeast Georgia.
The agency had been searching for Merck since Aug. 23, after the University of Georgia graduate drove from her home in Athens to her hometown of Kingsland in Camden County, but never showed up at her parents’ home.
Authorities had feared the worst, and on Friday even said there was a high probability she had intentionally disappeared with plans to harm herself.
Friday was Merck’s 25th birthday, and family members set up a special Facebook page that day for people concerned about the woman’s well-being to post birthday greetings with hopes she would read them and let her family know she was alright.
Details of how she was found were not immediately available Saturday evening.
The Camden County Sheriff’s Office announced that Merck had been found in a brief statement on the agency’s Facebook page:
“Ivy Dawn Merck was found alive today in Miami. Her parents are with her at this time. More details will be forthcoming but she is alive. Thank you all for your help, support and prayers through this very trying time.”
Merck lives with a roommate on Inglewood Avenue off Oak Street in eastern Athens and is a technician at Good Hands Veterinary Hospital in Oconee County.
On Aug. 21, she told her roommate and supervisor that she was leaving to visit her parents, but Steven Merck said he knew nothing of plans by his daughter to drive from Athens to Kingsland.
She boarded her dog in Kingsland on Aug. 23. One week later, a sheriff’s deputy in Florida’s Broward County found Merck’s car in the parking lot of a shopping center in Deerfield Beach, some 350 miles from her parents’ home.
The car had virtually run out of gas and the tires were so bald it had to be towed from the parking lot, authorities said.
Merck left notes for her parents and roommate in the car that described personal problems she needed to work out, but did not mention anything about harming herself, according to Deputy William Terrell, spokesman for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators turned over those notes, Merck’s diary and other evidence to a group of criminal profilers on Thursday, and the consensus was that she had likely intentionally disappeared with plans to harm herself, Terrell said.
But investigators never lost hope, and one theory they pinned slim hopes on was that Merck might have dropped off the radar because she was embarrassed about publicity her disappearance created, only compounding the personal issues she was struggling with.
That’s why authorities and family members appealed to everyone who was concerned to post birthday wishes on the newly created Facebook page, “Find Ivy Dawn Merck.”
“We created this page to give people a place to express their concern for Ivy and show her how much she is loved and valued by family, friends and the community,” said the missing woman’s sister-in-law, Stephanie Baker Merck.
“We made this page with her birthday in mind, but we would have done it regardless,” she said.
On an Internet site where many concerned friends and even strangers posted birthday messages on Friday, a day later dozens more already were expressing emotions of joy and relief.
“An answered prayer!!!” one person commented.
“I am so glad that she was found alive,” another wrote. “Thank you God for keeping her safe.”