Search on for missing city woman

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

A search has begun for 83-year-old Brookhaven woman after she disappeared from her home sometime Thursday or Friday, authorities said.

Virginia Ratliff, who is described as a white woman about5-foot-1 and weighing 135 pounds, is believed to have been driving her white 1999 Mercury Grand Marquis bearing Lincoln County tag 987-LIH.

“A relative is the one that called it in,” said Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson. “The house was open but she and the vehicle weren’t home, so we started searching.”

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Authorities said Ratliff might have been going to visit her husband, Charles, who is hospitalized Thursday in Jackson.

Family friend Mary Lynn Hudson, who answered the phone at theRatliff residence, said the Ratliffs left Thursday morning when he was transported by ambulance to the VA hospital in Jackson.

At that point, Mrs. Ratliff drove home from Jackson. Hudson said neighbors recall seeing the car in the driveway as late as noon onThursday.

“After that, no one has seen or heard from Virginia,” she said.”It looks as if she got in the car to drive herself to the VA.”

Hudson said Ratliff has had bouts of dementia and is not otherwise in top health. She said the family is skeptical as to whether she could operate the car for extended periods of time.

First Baptist Church of Brookhaven assembled a quadrant search of the Brookhaven area, sending groups into areas off the roads that might not be directly visible from the road. Officials fromState Bank and Wal-Mart have also joined in the search.

“Our goal is simply to go road by road and look on the side of roads, culverts, behind shrubs or anywhere a car could have gone off the road and been hidden. We’re going to stop and look in those places,” said the Rev. Greg Warnock, pastor at First Baptist.”We’re not going to assume she went in any direction, but we’ll try to cover all the directions.”

All eight Lincoln County volunteer fire departments and theBrookhaven Fire Department offered their assistance and were also mobilized Saturday to conduct a road search for Ratliff’s car or any other sign of the beloved Brookhaven socialite, said Heuck’s Retreat Fire Department President Jim Craig.

“I’ve asked all the chiefs in the event they locate the vehicle to call the sheriff’s office to let them know,” he said. “And if there are areas they couldn’t get to, they’re to call back and let us know, so we’ve got an overall picture of what parts of the county have been searched and what haven’t.”

Mississippi Highway Patrol Sgt. Rusty Boyd said troopers have been alerted to look out for Ratliff, and that lookout alert has been sent out to Alabama and Louisiana as well.

Henderson said the Civil Air Patrol joined the search Saturday,flying patters from Jackson to Hattiesburg.

“They’re flying as we speak,” he said Saturday evening. “They’re canvassing the area as far as Hinds County, and they came out ofHattiesburg. They’re doing their best to help us out.”

Henderson said the good news is that there doesn’t seem to be reason to suspect foul play.

“To my knowledge there’s really no indication of foul play,” he said. “She doesn’t hardly ever drive as far as what I’ve been told.We don’t have any info leading to anything other than she might be disoriented and got lost.”

Law enforcement officials have asked that if the public finds any sign of Ratliff, they notify the Brookhaven Police Department at (601)833-2424, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office at (601)833-5231, or Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop M at (601)833-7811.