May 22, 2013 Edition

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Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House (right) answers a question from a reporter at a press conference on Monday afternoon at the Walnut Ridge Police Complex. House and WRPD Chief Richy Thatcher conducted the conference following confirmation from the Arkansas State Crime Lab that the body recovered Saturday in the Black River was that of Sidney Randall, missing 14-year-old Walnut Ridge resident.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Discovery of body
met with grief, relief

Funeral services for 14-year-old Sidney Randall, who had been missing from her home in Walnut Ridge since March 9, will be Saturday at 2 p.m. at Walnut Ridge's Sharum Gymnasium.

Gretchen Hunt

For more than two months, the family of Sidney Randall and members of the Lawrence County community have held their breath in hopes of good news regarding the missing 14-year-old.

Reality took hold on Saturday when the Randolph County 911 Center received a call that a local fisherman, Herschel Meeks, had discovered a body in Black River.

On Monday, the Arkansas State Crime Lab confirmed that the body was that of Randall, who had been missing from her home in Walnut Ridge since March 9.

During a press conference on Monday, Police Chief Richy Thatcher shared a letter from Randall's mother, Denise Cornell, thanking law enforcement personnel and community members for their efforts.

"We would like to express our deepest gratitude to all who donated or volunteered their time to help bring Sidney home," she said. "We cannot express how much this has meant to us."

Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House told reporters Monday afternoon that even though the evidence seemed to imply that she was probably not alive, there was still a flicker of hope.

"Unfortunately, that last flicker of hope was dashed," House said. "Now, we have a new grief and a new remorse. All of us feel that."

Randy Johnson, who is counselor at Walnut Ridge Middle School, where Randall was an eighth-grader, echoed House's words.

"Yesterday (Monday) was very similar to what we experienced the Monday after the weekend she went missing," Johnson said. "After the announcement on Saturday that a body had been found, the kids came in upset, especially her close friends."

Johnson said in addition to himself and the other counselors on the Walnut Ridge campus, several counselors from Families Inc. and local pastor Glenn Smith, who has a nephew in the school, were also on hand to meet with students.

"We wanted them to have an opportunity to get away from the classroom, visit with counselors and still keep the day as normal as possible," Johnson said. "The teachers did a wonderful job too, supporting the students and helping them."

Johnson said another wave of grief hit the school later in the day when it was officially announced that they had confirmed identification.

"We had teachers, counselors and parents here," he said. "Some of the more deeply affected children checked out."

Investigation continues

An investigation continues, as local law enforcement wait on a cause of death ruling by the state.

Thatcher said they hope to receive that report within the next few days, praising the lab for its quick work in identifying the body, which was done through dental records.

Randall was reported missing by her mother after she awoke and found her daughter, as well as her husband, John Cornell, were gone from the home in the early morning hours of March 10. Denise told officials that her husband later returned, but did not have Randall with him and left again.

His whereabouts were unknown for the next day and a half until his body was found near Lawrence County Road 438 on March 11.

Lawrence County Sheriff Jody Dotson said the state crime lab ruled in a preliminary autopsy report that John Cornell's death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

After Cornell's body was found, an Amber Alert was issued for Randall, who remained missing for two months and eight days.

Buddy Williams of Imboden, a member of the Lawrence County Dive Team, assisted with the search and served as search coordinator for a portion of that time.

"We had well over 1,000 people involved in the search," he said. "We had 276 in one day during an organized search."

He said that he, Dotson and Thatcher had discussed the probability that an individual would accidentally find Randall's body, but they continued to follow up on every lead.

"We stayed in constant contact," he said. "If Richy got a tip out in the county, the sheriff went immediately. Every email and every phone call we got - it all got followed up on."

Account open

Those who would like to help Sidney's family financially can make donations at the Walnut Ridge, Hoxie, Pocahontas or Bono branches of First National Bank or Cox Funeral Home in Walnut Ridge.

Angee Jones of Walnut Ridge has helped coordinate several benefits to assist the family over the past two months.

"The response from the community has been amazing," she said.

Jones did encourage those giving to do so through the account to ensure that the money is going to the family.

Mayor House said during the search hundreds have given assistance to the family and to those who were searching for Randall.

"There has been an outpouring of love and support for this family and for Sidney," he said.

House said he believes the community is feeling some relief, in addition to all the remorse.

"Finding her does bring some closure to the family and to the community and to law enforcement," he said. "There have been countless numbers of sleepless nights, especially for those closely connected to the investigation."

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