Missing Catawba Co. girl found safe after walking out of the woods

CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. — Police have found an 11-year-old girl who was reported missing Tuesday afternoon after getting off a Catawba County school bus and heading home.

Emily Dowdle, who attends Catawba Elementary School, was found around 9:30 p.m. after she walked out of the woods behind her home, police said.

LISTEN: Frantic 911 call from stepmother

She was safe and EMS was checking on her condition, officials said.

“Our thanks go out to hundreds of law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders,” an FBI spokeswoman said.

Channel 9 learned Thursday morning that Emily has been placed in Department of Social Services custody.

Officials said she got off the bus around 2:40 p.m. Tuesday. The bus driver saw her walk toward the back of her home, which is normal, according to police.

When Emily’s stepmother got home about 15 minutes later, she couldn't find her daughter. After a quick search of the area, she called police.

Neighbor Robert Wilson said Emily's stepmother showed up at his door.

"She was crying and I asked what was wrong and she said my daughter is missing, my daughter is missing," Wilson said.

Catawba County schools released a statement saying that the family also contacted the district and reported that Emily was not at home and that she was missing. The administration said it has reached out to other families at the school to see if they have any information that could help in the search for Emily.

Emergency crews set up a command center and resumed searching for the girl at 7 a.m. Wednesday. They later suspended the search at about 8 p.m.

Officers used K-9s during a grid search in an attempt to find the girl but came up empty.

FBI agents were at the girl's house on Hudson Chapel Road Wednesday morning, speaking with her parents as well as taking photographs of the home and an RV. Channel 9 saw investigators remove several small bags of evidence from the home. It's not clear exactly what was taken.

Channel 9 confirmed there are cameras on the bus that took Emily home and the FBI is assisting local authorities in looking at that video.

Officials told Channel 9 on Wednesday that they handled Emily’s disappearance as a missing persons/runaway case and do not think there has been any foul play.

“The investigation is geared towards her safety and there’s some things we just can’t disclose at this time because we don’t want to jeopardize what we are concerned of at this time,” said Catawba Police Chief Dwane Coozen before the girl was later found.

Investigators said the girl did not go to school for several days prior to attending class on Tuesday, and knew she was in trouble.

The 11-year-old did not have a cellphone, money or credit cards. Police set up a roadblock around the time of Emily's disappearance, and asked drivers if they saw anything suspicious.

Channel 9 spoke to Carol Rasar who was driving along the roads, hoping to spot the 11-year-old.

"Because I have a 12-year-old daughter and I worry about her getting off the school bus. Just seems like we should be doing something," said Rasar.

“We’ve done searches, we’ve done two dog searches, we did a canvas of the neighborhood,” said Coozen. “My concern is that she is 11 years old. She’s out there…it’s a different world than what is was years ago. The survival part…knowing how to cope with things she may run into.”

The SBI and FBI helped the sheriff's office in the investigation.

Contact the Catawba County Sheriff's Department at 828-464-3112 if you have any information.

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