GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. (WIVB) — A desperate search for a missing 12-year-old ended successfully more than four hours after it began Thursday evening at a Grand Island amusement park.
The search for 12-year-old Willow Sobaszek began late Thursday evening after a caretaker reported a child who was separated from a group with the Lackawanna summer program. Family of Sobaszek say she originally went missing in the general area of the water park portion of the amusement park around 2:45 p.m.
“I would stress for anyone out there, we would like to get the call immediately. A two hour delay, an hour delay with the child that’s missing could really expand our search area,” Erie County Sheriff Chief Scott Patronik said. “Whenever you have someone that is missing, we would encourage you to call immediately.”
The search came down to the wire, with the sun just about to dip below the horizon when suddenly police located Sobaszek just after 8 p.m. Police say they found the child near a camping ground just outside Martin’s Fantasy Island.
“It’s obviously easier to search any type of terrain in the daylight. We were prepared to basically put our search and rescue team on standby,” Patronik said. “We were just going to dispatch them. It’s always easier to search in the day than it is in the dark.”
Officials successfully utilized helicopters and more to aid in the search in and around the amusement park. Deputies with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office began escorting park-goers around 7:30 to close it down for thorough ground searches. Erie County Sheriff’s Deputies headed up the search with the help of Grand Island Police, New York State Police and more.
Family members and police say they are just happy the story had a happy ending.
“If you’re here with your family, you always want to keep an eye on your child. Whether they wander away intentionally, whether they wander away accidentally, of if you get separated, it’s always a scary thing for parents,” Patronik said. “You can imagine these parents — she was missing for hours.”