Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Profile of Tim Miller and Texas EquuSearch

Volunteers

A group of volunteers
A group of volunteers

According to Miller, volunteers generally receive training on the spot, which means they learn how to place evidence markers or flags, as well as how to communicate with search coordinators. In the event they find a body, they're instructed, they should not panic. They're never to approach or touch a found body. In the event they see one, they are to stop immediately and walk backward in their own footprints so as not to further contaminate the scene. (Not all bodies are victims of crime, but each discovery is treated as a potential crime scene.) They must then seek official assistance immediately. Several law enforcement officers participate on the teams, as well as a few forensic scientists, so there are often volunteers who know the protocol, but large-scale searches are comprised of mostly lay volunteers, some of whom may never have seen a body before.

An EquuSearch horse
An EquuSearch horse

Those who volunteer on horseback must demonstrate skilled horsemanship and their horse must be able to perform and to tolerate several things. The full list is posted on the Web site, and among the items are:

  • The horse must be able to walk, trot, canter, stop and stand under control from either direction in the arena
  • The horse should stand quietly while tied or being held, mounted or dismounted from either side.
  • The horse should allow the rider to hold at least two other horses while mounted, and stand calmly.
  • The horse should be able to negotiate obstacles in an arena that demonstrates the rider's control, with the rider being able to drag an object using a rope, back the horse in an "L" pattern, walk the horse over a large plastic tarp, and open a gate from horseback.
  • The horses should be able to calmly negotiate a bridge, thick brush and water, alone or with other horses present.

Volunteers without horses must be able to follow the orders from a search director and to work with whatever equipment they bring, whether it's an all-terrain vehicle, a helicopter, a methane detector, or a high-tech infrared system.

Joe Huston
Joe Huston

Miller believes that, while the organization has about 660 members nationwide, they have used more than 38,000 volunteers. Since 2000, he estimates they have conducted around 525 searches, bringing home at least 100 people safely, including children. In fact, approximately 72% of the searches have resulted in getting someone home or finding the remains — an impressive result.

Darryl Phillips
Darryl Phillips

Among those who have gotten deeply involved in the efforts of TES are the personnel who hold the place together, ensure that fund-raisers are organized, answer phones, direct volunteers, talk with families, and represent its work to the media. Miller relies heavily on Search Director Joe Huston, and search leaders Steve Pitzer, George Adlerz, Darryl Phillips, Ted Tarver, and Renee Utley. In the office, volunteers coordinate the efforts to distribute resources, especially when there are several searches going on at once.

Renee Utley
Renee Utley

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