South Carolina Search & Rescue Dog Association (SCSARDA), a non-profit, all-volunteer professional search and rescue team dedicated to finding missing people with highly trained search dogs, has assisted in a search for additional graves and further defining graveyard boundaries at the historic graveyard of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Abbeville, SC. The church was established in 1821, building its first church building in 1828 and its current building in 1962; graves in the recognized, established historic cemetery begin as early as 1844. Team SCSARDA was called out for assistance by John Owen Butler, pastor of the church, when he and other leaders of the church realized that there were possible further unrecovered graves of former enslaved persons well beyond the recognized historic graveyard. SCSARDA provided human remains detection (HRD) K9 teams that verified the church’s deduction that there were graves in a marked area and further expanded boundaries of the potential graveyard by finding other possible gravesites.
Handler Nancy Jocoy with German Shepherd K9 Beau is the team’s senior human remains detection expert; K9 Beau has attained the North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA) cadaver detection certification seven times. The multi-day test includes searches for human remains in 12 different scenarios in six areas, including rubble (simulating a collapsed building), vehicles, water, open wilderness, building, and buried. Handler Mitch Henderson with the youngest K9 on the team, Labrador Penny, has trained in human remains detection for more than a year, and is pursuing NAPWDA certification in the Spring of 2021. Because this was neither a criminal search nor one involving a missing person, Team Penny was allowed to gain valuable experience by participating.
“This was an unusual search for our team,” said Nancy Jocoy. “We are typically called out by sheriff, police or fire departments, or emergency management agencies as resources to search for missing persons. Our K9 SAR teams include area search, for searching wilderness areas in systematic sweeps while off-leash; trailing, for finding direction of travel and hasty searches of trails and paths; and human remains detection on land or water. Our HRD dogs are an integral part of that task, so that we can provide closure for families of missing people over the course of a lengthy search.”
“We do train our HRD K9s on a variety of sources, including pre-Civil War graves, and when we received a request for assistance from Pastor Butler, we realized that we could provide some valuable assistance to what was a very meaningful search for this church as well as the community and its history.”
“It is important for our church to honor all those who are buried in our graveyard, and also preserve the sacred space near our church,” said John Butler, pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church. “We have submitted an initial application for further resources from the state’s archaeological institute, and we hope to be able to further map and delineate the complete boundaries of our cemetery. We don’t have records prior to 1867, and so we don’t know their people — but we are their people.”
After rotating K9 teams through search areas, the team flagged, then probed, possible grave sites, potentially expanding the boundary of the cemetery. Future searches may take place throughout 2021.
The South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association (SCSARDA) is an all-volunteer professional search and rescue team with highly trained search dogs dedicated to helping find those who are lost, from children to hikers to drowning victims to those with Alzheimer’s. Founded in 2002, SCSARDA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which serves as a specialized resource for emergency services agencies. We respond to requests from emergency services agencies on a 24/7 basis and our services are provided entirely free of charge. For more information on SCSARDA visit http://www.scsarda.org or like https://www.facebook.com/SCSARDAK9.