The search for a 67-year-old woman with Alzheimer's disease ended early Thursday morning at the Guilford County Jail.
Lugusta Harper of 712 Tuscaloosa St., Greensboro, who was reported missing Wednesday evening by her family, had been arrested earlier in the day for second-degree trespassing at Handi Mart on O. Henry Boulevard, about a mile from her home``I can't believe they were out looking for her when she was here all along,' said Capt. Rick Maynard, a division commander with the Guilford County Jail.
While police say they have a policy on handling violent people who may need medical treatment, they have no method of handling people with Alzheimer's. And medical screenings at the jail don't address Alzheimer's.
Martin Robinson, part owner of the convenience store, said Harper spent about an hour there asking people for money and talking to strangers as if she knew them.
When she refused help, Robinson called the police. He said he feared that Harper would leave the store and get hit by a car.
Officer G.F. Stephens of the Greensboro Police Department arrived about 2 p.m. and offered to take Harper home, but she was unsure of where she lived. After she refused to leave the store, he took her to the magistrate's office to charge her with trespassing. Stephens declined to be interviewed Thursday.
Department policy says officers should take people who present a danger to themselves or the public to the county mental health department, Sgt. Joe Deich said. But that policy didn't apply to Harper because she wasn't violent, he said.
``We deal with all kinds of weird people,' Deich said. ``The officer thought she was a street person. To be able to diagnose a medical problem is beyond our capabilities.'
When Stephens couldn't get the woman to give him a name or phone number of a relative, he checked to see if anyone was reported missing, Deich said.
But it was several hours after Stephens left his shift at 4:30 p.m. when Harper was reported missing.
Magistrate Jim Jobe said he tried to get Harper to call family members to come get her, but she refused. He set the bond at $25.
``There was no telling what would happen to her if we released her,' Jobe said. ``I knew there was something wrong. She was real erratic. That's a problem in Guilford County. There's no agencies that will take charge of somebody like that. If we had released her, there's no telling what would have happened.'
So Harper went to jail.
Maynard said the jail's medical screening is not designed to recognize people with Alzheimer's. The jail has been working on a new screening process, expected to begin in a few months. He said the new screening should recognize people with Alzheimer's.
The incident was unusual, he said.
``I don't ever recall having anybody like that,' he said.
Harper's daughter, Wylene Hameed, was at work about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday when one of her four children called to say Harper was missing. Hameed knew her mother had planned to walk to the corner store, so she didn't worry until she got home from work about 5:30 p.m. and her mother still wasn't home.
Hameed searched for Harper before calling police.
About 16 officers began scouring the neighborhood for Harper about 7 p.m. and continued looking until midnight.
About 1 a.m. Thursday, an officer stopped at the jail and saw Harper's name on the log. It was misspelled, and she gave an assortment of her previous addresses. The street name was from Newark, N.J., and the city was Reidsville.
Harper was released into Hameed's custody at 2 a.m. Thursday. Police said the trespassing charge could be dropped, but that would happen later, when Harper went to court.
Harper, the mother of 13 children, grew up in New Orleans and later moved to Reidsville. When her second husband died in 1969, she moved to Newark, N.J., to live with other family members, Hameed said.
Harper was depressed by her husband's death and began drinking heavily and sometimes wandering away from home, Hameed said. So the family decided to move her to Greensboro three months ago.
Hameed said her mother had not been drinking since then, but thinks she might have had a drink Wednesday.
Hameed also suspects she knows why. Earlier Wednesday, Hameed had reminded Harper that she had a doctor's appointment today.
``She's afraid of doctors,' Hameed said. ``That might have triggered her running away.'
Harper said that her experience wasn't bad, other than an ache in her hip from the walk. Her only reaction to being in jail was surprise at how young her cell mates were.
``I'm glad it wasn't worse,' she said.