GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Suffering with Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia, 80-year-old Margaret Jones walked away from her Gulfport home and was missing for four hours. Her grateful family said the Gulfport police officer who found her and pulled her from an ice cold creek almost a mile from home is her guardian angel, who didn't think twice before jumping in to save her.
That's why we honor Officer George Payne III as a South Mississippi Hero.
"Gulfport did their job, true blue, they did their job," Margaret Evans said of the response to her mother's disappearance.
She is still in awe of the Gulfport Police Department and their quick response.
"Thirty minutes for them," Evans said. "I saw the cruisers just circling everywhere. Everywhere I went I could see cruisers out looking for her. It was just awesome, everybody, it was just on the spot."
Mrs. Jones was gone for four hours. They thought she walked north, so that's where all of the officers searched, except Officer George Payne III. Payne headed south in his patrol car, then got out and searched on foot.
Payne didn't even know a Brickyard Bayou runoff creek lay beyond the woods. He had no idea what drew him into the thick, covered brush.
Officer George Payne III of the Gulfport Police Department said, "I can't say besides diving intervention. I mean it, there was just something, there was absolutely no reason for me to look at the tree line, but something just led me to it."
And it led him directly to her.
"All I could see was her head, and the water was actually up to her neck, right around her chin," Payne said. "She had walked into the water and her legs got stuck in the mud, up to her knees, to her thighs and then she fell backwards and her arms got stuck in the mud. And with the water coming in, it was steadily rising up."
Finding this "needle in a haystack" her daughter said, was miraculous. Officer Steve Kelly who was first on the scene to help Payne agreed. He is also very proud of his fellow officer.
"You know to get in there, gear on, boots on and everything, went down that bank, jumped in the mud, just pulled her up with a better way to breathe," Officer Steve Kelly remembered. "She was sinking in the mud, it's just unbelievable."
"I said, 'Miss Maggie, how did you get in this water?'" Payne remembered. "She said, 'I don't know, but you can take me anywhere you want.' So I was able to get my arms underneath her and get her unclogged from the mud and get rescue to her."
Gulfport police and fire descended on the scene quickly. Ms. Jones was treated for hypothermia and a broken pinkie finger. Her whole family is forever grateful to their hero and to the police department who seem to truly care about the citizens they serve so bravely.
"The entire force, everybody, the lieutenants, the captains, the officers and they've stopped by and checked on her since then," Evans said.