published Saturday, January 19th, 2013

Conasauga Creek search continues for missing family

Wyatt Murphy, left, and Kent Holmes, right, from Bradley County Fire and Rescue load a kayak to aid in the search for an adult and two children who went missing on a creek near Delano, Tenn.
Wyatt Murphy, left, and Kent Holmes, right, from Bradley County Fire and Rescue load a kayak to aid in the search for an adult and two children who went missing on a creek near Delano, Tenn.
Photo by Jay Bailey.
  • photo
    Jesse Gann of Bradley County Fire and Rescue puts on a lifejacket in as he prepares to continue the search for an adult and two young children who went missing after their boat overturned in a creek near Delano, Tenn.
    Photo by Jay Bailey.
    enlarge photo

DELANO, Tenn. — Melvin Yoder, 52, spoke slowly and quietly, just above a whisper, about the tragedy unfolding in this tight-knit Mennonite community.

On Wednesday, 36-year-old Nick Alley took five of his children out in a canoe on the Conasauga Creek near his home in northern Polk County, Yoder said. The canoe tipped over, spilling all six family members into the water.

Three children returned.

Nick Alley and two other children, identified by members of the community as 7-year-old Helana Alley and 6-year-old Lazarus Alley, did not.

Other than Yoder, few in the community wanted to talk about Alley on Friday afternoon.

"It's not that we're trying to hide anything," said Yoder, the community's beekeeper. "It's just these aren't the things we want to turn attention to. We take life very seriously. We especially take death seriously."

Rescue teams from Bradley, Walker and Polk counties, as well as East Ridge, swarmed the area where the missing Alleys were last seen.

Members from the Tennessee State Parks system and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency came to help, too.

Rescue teams started the day searching through previously flooded land, said Jeff Bishop, a lieutenant with TWRA. After lunch, the teams took to the creek in rafts and small boats, searching an area about 300 or 400 yards long.

Today, the teams will return with more people. Polk County Emergency Management Agency Director Stephen Lofty said about 100 people will look through the creek, and the TWRA will supply a sonar scanner that shows what is underwater.

If rescuers can't find the three today, the search will continue indefinitely.

"Eventually they will be found," Bishop said. "We want it to be sooner rather than later."

The Alleys moved to Delano from Virginia four or five years ago. They didn't come from a Mennonite background, Yoder said, but they attend church each week.

Yoder said his wife, Ruth, told him about Alley and his children.

Word spread door to door, the message arriving on foot or horseback.

"Something like that gets around quickly in spite of our limits on modern technology," Yoder said.

The whole community appreciated Alley, and everyone feels hurt, Yoder said. They just don't show it. That's not their style.

"Nick was as involved as the rest of us," Yoder said. "Not more. Not less."

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