Originally created 08/06/99

Missing girl found unharmed



MERRIWETHER, S.C. -- It was probably classic curiosity that led 4-year-old Temple Weidman to wander from her rural Edgefield County home at lunchtime Thursday.

That's the only thing her parents could figure after a five-hour search that ended happily.

"She is at the curious stage," said father, Brent Weidman, as his daughter sat nearby, cuddled deep in the arms of her mother, Stephanie Weidman.

"I would just tell other parents that it only takes a second. Her mother was in the kitchen, and she looked out and she was gone."

While they searched frantically for the 4-year-old with shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes, a man going home from work stumbled across the little girl and her young collie.

Just after 5 p.m., as Ben Prince drove along Rainforest Lane near Merriwether Elementary School, he saw the child sitting in the middle of the dirt road with her dog. She was crying.

In 90-degree heat, Temple had strayed a mile and a half from her manufactured home through a thickly-wooded area, her 12-week-old puppy following her every step.

Mr. Prince hadn't heard the hubbub about the missing girl, but he soon figured out what was going on. And soon, the girl was whisked back to her Sheppard Drive home for a family reunion.

It was a huge relief for searchers. All anyone had been able to think about was the pond that lay behind the family's home.

The search that began just before noon was frantic. After a half-hour effort by Mrs. Weidman and some neighborhood friends proved unsuccessful, they called police.

Edgefield County sheriff's officials arrived and soon requested help from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the State Law Enforcement Division and area fire and rescue personnel.

And they came -- with helicopters, bloodhounds, horses and all the four-wheelers they could round up.

"It's incredible the effort they put together," Mr. Weidman said. "We've got a good community here."

For several hours, media outlets broadcast the news of the missing girl with Tarzan sandals and a blue jumper outfit. With the case of 6-year-old Keenan O'Mailia fresh on their minds, everyone feared the worst.

"Well, you always expect the worst, and you never say it," said neighbor Selisa Cox.

Keenan, a North Augusta kindergartner, wandered from his home at Georgetown Villas on April 17. His body was found a day later in the surrounding woods, where police say he had been sexually assaulted and strangled. William "Junior" Downs is charged in the killing.

But Thursday's story was the kind authorities and parents prefer to tell -- dramatic, but not sad.

Four-wheelers scoured the woods, police bloodhounds tracked the girl's scent and helicopters hovered over the wooded landscape.

Then dozens of police and rescue officials watched as the parents scooped up the shaken child and hugged her. Friends and neighbors shouted praise.

And all Temple wanted was more cold water.

"I'm glad to see one end on a happy note for a change," said Mike Willis, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources. "So many end in tragedy. This is nice."

Greg Rickabaugh can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.