On September 10, James (Jim) Noon, 84, walked away from his apartment at Golden Pond Assisted Living Center at approximately 10:00 PM. Witnesses at Golden Pond said that a fire alarm went off that evening around 7:30 PM, and reported seeing Mr. Noon awakened by the noise. Five hours later he was reported missing.
Noon, originally from Newton, only recently moved to Golden Pond, and was known to be an avid walker. His absence was reported to Hopkinton Police and Fire at 12:30 AM on September 11. Hopkinton Fire’s Lieutenant Bill Krauss was the ranking officer on duty when the call came in and he took command of the operation.
Lt. Krauss and his team first had to establish that Mr. Noon was indeed missing. According to Krauss, when people are reported missing they are often found within or very close to their last known location. Krauss and his firefighters searched every room, bathroom, closet, and stairwell in Golden Pond for traces of Mr. Noon. After the exhaustive search turned up nothing they worked with Hopkinton Police to deploy a K-9 unit and a drone. With an Upton police officer piloting, the drone flew over the woods, Icehouse Pond and up West Main Street toward Upton for signs of the missing man while the K-9 unit attempted to pick up a scent. Neither were successful.
On the morning of September 11, Interim Fire Chief Gary Daugherty, Jr., who had assumed command in the early morning hours, began to coordinate the Massachusetts Fire District 14 Technical Rescue Team. District 14 is a regional technical rescue team comprised of 35 members from 11 communities in the MetroWest area, including Ashland, Concord, Framingham, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Milford, Natick, Northborough, and Shrewsbury. All members of the rescue team are trained to the technician level for multiple special operations and they drill on a monthly basis throughout the year. Chief Daugherty also received assistance from Massachusetts State Police, whose technology would prove to be critical in the search for Mr. Noon.
The team scoured social media for sightings and they also issued a Silver Alert to area mobile phones. They tried to ping Mr. Noon’s mobile phone but it was turned off. Chief Daugherty and his firefighters also coordinated with the management team at Golden Pond to gather surveillance footage from the more than 30 cameras at the facility in an attempt to establish a direction of travel. The rescue team was initially set back by the timestamp on the cameras, which they discovered was an hour off. But the team was able to cross-check camera footage from the previous night’s fire alarm to establish the actual time of the video footage.
Rescuers spent the day searching a 1/2 mile radius around the facility, which included forest, dumpsters and sheds. But as darkness set in, Chief Daugherty made the call to suspend the operation for the day. “By this time we had 60 people working to locate Mr. Noon,” said the Chief. “We had searched all the easy places, like back yards and sheds, and I knew the next day we would be going deep into the woods. I called off the search to make sure none of our rescuers got hurt.”
Throughout the night of September 11 the manager at Golden Pond continued to review video footage, and after several hours he discovered a camera that captured Mr. Noon leaving the facility. He provided the footage to the command center, which established Mr. Noon’s precise location and the exact time he left the facility. Working with software provided by the State Police, rescuers were able to establish a more precise search area.
“I was impressed with the technology the State Police has at their disposal, and grateful that they were willing to share it with us,” said Daugherty. “Everyone was very professional and we were all working toward the same mission and same outcome.”
On the morning of September 12, Chief Daugherty relocated the command post to South Street, in a partially empty Dell building. Hopkinton Police Chief Joseph Bennett had cleared the way with Dell, who generously opened their cafeteria and restroom facilities to the first responders. Armed with the revised search area from the state police software, the commanders spent the morning with several maps, plotting search sectors. They then deployed six small teams to search each sector.
Two hours later one of the teams located Mr. Noon. He was laying down near a creek just north of Icehouse Pond, about 30 feet from the trail. Mr. Noon appeared to be in distress and may have sustained a fall, resulting in an abdominal injury.
Back at the command post the call came in over the radio that the victim had been located, but the Chief ordered the teams to keep searching until Mr. Noon had been positively identified. A few minutes passed and his identity was confirmed; meanwhile two medics and several police officers extricated the injured man from the woods and placed him into a waiting ambulance for transport for the hospital. Despite having suffered from 36 hours of exposure Mr. Noon’s vital signs were strong.
The rescuers returned to the command post at 171 South Street for a debriefing, headcount and injury check. They then briefed Mrs. Noon in person, telling her they’d found her husband.
“She was in disbelief,” said Chief Daugherty. “I think she didn’t expect us to find him after all the time had passed. She was elated.”
“I am particularly proud of the way we kept the family informed throughout this process,” said Town Manager Norman Khumalo. “Obviously this is a wonderful outcome for Mr. Noon and his family, but it speaks volumes about the level of care our fire and police professionals bring to their job every day.”
As for lessons learned, there are many, said the Chief. Some of the apps that the state police had access to have already been added to all Hopkinton firefighters’ duty phones. One app, for example, takes a missing person’s age, mental capacity, and disease history and based on national data it predicts with a high degree of accuracy how far they can travel on foot. Hopkinton Fire will also be adopting another program the state police use called CalTopo, which allows for collaborative mapping and will overlay the exact location of each member of the rescue team, relaying their position back to the command center.
A more low-tech learning is that the Fire Department had asked Hopkinton residents in the area to review their security and doorbell cameras for sightings of Mr. Noon, but they failed to ask residents to indicate if they didn’t see him on their camera footage as well. This would have helped the responders exclude certain search areas.
“Hopkinton Comes Together” goes the saying. This was a remarkable collaboration between our local, regional and state fire and police departments to bring peace to a worried town and reunite an 84-year-old man with his loved ones. The dedication, professionalism, and unwavering commitment displayed by these brave individuals serve as a testament to the strength and unity of our community.