Search for Snohomish woman ends in heartbreak

SNOHOMISH — The painted sign next to her front door said, “Grandkids welcome.”

Two days after Mildred Bird, 93, was reported missing, her family prayed for the chance to welcome her home.

Instead, just before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, her body was found in a swampy area 300 to 400 yards from her home, Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

“We knew the longer the search went on and the longer she was out there, the more serious it became,” Hover said. “This didn’t turn out the way we had hoped it would. We feel for the family and we wish we’d had a much different ending.”

There were no signs of foul play, Hover said.

Bird was last seen Sunday night about 7:30, her grandson John Simpson said. The family had gathered in the back yard between his home and the separate mobile home where Bird lived.

She wasn’t there when relatives went to check on Bird on Monday. Police were called and a search began.

By Tuesday, more than 100 people joined the effort to find the Snohomish grandmother, Snohomish County sheriff’s Lt. Rodney Rochon said.

Search teams started by looking within a quarter-mile radius of Bird’s home in the 7400 block of 89th Avenue SE, a semirural area just west of Highway 9. They worked until midnight Monday.

On Tuesday, deputies and search-and-rescue volunteers scoured an increasingly expanded area.

They used helicopters, tracking dogs and dive teams to look in ponds, brambles and ditches — combing nearly every inch of the terrain near Bird’s home.

“It’s the proverbial jigsaw puzzle with no boundaries,” Rochon said. “We get a starting point and we go from there.”

A team of search-and-rescue volunteers found Bird’s body in a waist-deep swamp close to her home, Hover said.

“It’s pretty upsetting for the search-and-rescue workers,” she said. “They know the realities of a situation like this, but everyone always holds out hope that there will be a happy ending.”

The Snohomish County medical examiner will determine how and when the woman died.

As the search was under way, the neighborhood near Bird’s home turned into a staging area for the rescue teams.

Neighbor Gerry Salvadalena had to navigate through the official vehicles parked in his driveway to get home. He said he didn’t mind helping any way he could.

“It’s got to be very upsetting to (the family) because it’s very upsetting to me,” he said Tuesday morning of his neighbor’s disappearance. “We’re praying for her, that she’s safe.”

The grim news of Bird’s death quickly spread through the neighborhood.

Too often, people go missing and are never found, said neighbor Rita Salvadalena.

“We’re very sad but at the same time we’re happy that they found her,” she said.

Search-and-rescue volunteers said up to 30 neighbors joined in the hunt for Bird on Monday night.

“It was a huge community effort,” said Perry Countryman, a search-and-rescue volunteer.

“It was really amazing yesterday, kids and families,” said Kirsten Froelich, also with search-and-rescue.

During the search, photos of the missing woman were posted around the area and along First Street in downtown Snohomish.

Earlier Tuesday, Bird’s family prayed for her safe return, grandson Simpson said.

“We are still at a loss. (We) don’t have any idea of why this happened or how,” he said.

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or jholtz@heraldnet.com.

Note: A correction was made to this story on April 30. A Snohomish County Search and Rescue member, Ernie Zeller, was misidentified in a photograph that accompanied the story.

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