Texas Search and Rescue joins Liberty Hill quest for missing teen

TEXSAR CEO Greg Pyles (standing right) and Operations Section Chief Shawn Hohnstreiter (standing left) stayed in communication with search technicians Dec. 21 as representatives from various law enforcement agencies looked on. (Photo by Dana Delgado)

TEXSAR CEO Greg Pyles (standing right) and Operations Section Chief Shawn Hohnstreiter (standing left) stayed in communication with search technicians Dec. 21 as representatives from various law enforcement agencies looked on. (Photo by Dana Delgado)

By Dana Delgado

The search for a North Texas teen missing since November from Meridell Achievement Center in Liberty Hill continued through the holidays.

Liberty Hill Police Chief Randy Williams said 16-year-old Christopher Seth Briggs went missing Nov. 17 from the private co-ed residential treatment center that specializes in psychiatry and neuropsychiatry for children and adolescents. Chief Williams says the case remains an active investigation.

“We thoroughly searched the area and beyond the city limits,” said Chief Williams. “Because of his age and the fact that he left on his own, he is classified as a runaway. This happens every so often at Meridell, but there had been a lull before this one (Briggs).”

Williams said that patients who run away from Meridell generally go to a convenience store for a soda or to use the pay phone.

“It’s become more difficult with the Stonewall subdivision right next to the treatment facility, but we have a good relationship with Meridell and follow a specific process when patients leave the open campus,” the Chief said.

Despite coordinated efforts by the LHPD with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety, there have been no leads as to Briggs’ whereabouts.

Texas Search and Rescue (TXSAR), a non-profit organization based in Austin, conducted an extensive all-day ground search Dec. 21 in the Liberty Hill area in conjunction with local, county and state law enforcement agencies.

Christopher Seth Briggs has been missing from Meridell Achievement Center since Nov. 19.

Christopher Seth Briggs has been missing from Meridell Achievement Center since Nov. 19.

According to Williams, this is the first ever TXSAR search conducted in Liberty Hill.

The search team involved 42 trained search and rescue technicians as well as Human Remains and certified canines and covered three square miles, according to Greg Pyles, TXSAR’s Chief Executive Officer. Pyles directed the search from a temporary command center at the Liberty Hill Fire Station.

As vehicle after vehicle pulled away from the command center with members of the search team headed to their assigned areas, family members watched in anguish but remained hopeful. A family member said they had been asked not to participate in the search.

At the end of the Dec. 21 search, Pyles said “the search was completed as planned” and was “being evaluated.”

“A tremendous amount of data collected during the search must now be analyzed,” said Pyles.

He said Liberty Hill police will make any necessary updates or announcements regarding the investigation. In a post-Christmas interview, Williams stated that the evidence collected did not provide any additional information as to the teen’s whereabouts.

“I don’t know where he would have gone,” said Judy Jackson, grandmother of the missing teen. “He didn’t know the area at all. It’s been hard, really hard not knowing.”

Briggs is a 16 year-old white male standing 6’1” and weighing 160 pounds with blonde hair and hazel eyes. He is in need of medical attention and was last seen wearing a black hoodie. Anyone having information should contact the Liberty Hill Police Department at (512) 515-5409.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety Missing Persons Bulletin, Brigg is the only person listed on their bulletin as missing from Liberty Hill for the past year.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Mrs. Jackson said her grandson had been in treatment for about one year for bipolar disorder and was recently diagnosed with autism. Briggs had been receiving treatment at another center before he was transfered to the treatment center in Liberty Hill. He had been at Meridell for only four days before he went missing Nov. 17, she said.

The family spokesperson said Briggs had no history of running away or violence, but had appeared to have become more anxious over the preceding months because he had grown tired of being different and wanted to be like everyone else. He grew up on a farm with a younger brother and sister in Guthrie, but was described by Mrs. Jackson as always being a “loner” who loved his music but never felt like he fit in. However, his relationship with his siblings seemed normal, she said.

Mrs. Jackson said the family learned from authorities that Briggs had bolted from the Meridell facility at supper time along with two other patients.  One patient was apprehended within 15 minutes while another voluntarily returned later that evening. Briggs  has not been heard from since.

The family has been searching extensively for him since Nov. 17, visiting Liberty Hill from their home in the Texas Panhandle. They have posted fliers throughout the region and he is listed on the database of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

After not having any success and without a single tip or lead, the family contacted TEXSAR for assistance after a web search for search agencies that might assist them.  TEXSAR contacted the Liberty Hill Police Department to garner support for the search since requests for assistance can only be made by governmental or relief agencies.

TEXSAR is a volunteer first responder organization with teams in Austin, Dallas and Galveston areas focused on search and rescue, incident response, and disaster response. The unit based in Austin serves Travis and Williamson counties, and most of Central Texas, but can deploy anywhere in the state at the request of federal and state agencies, the Governor, local law enforcement and relief agencies.

As emergency response teams, TEXSAR focuses on search and rescue, emergency relief and disaster response under the emergency management system and the national incident management system and have assisted during hurricanes including Katrina, Rita, and Ike as well as missing person searches, and fire and shelter operations.

From January through October of 2013, the organization responded to 12 deployments, five planned events and provided formal, certified training to seven agencies. Pyles, a native of Llano, joined the organization three years ago.

Recently, TEXSAR was responsible for finding a few people who went missing in the Onion Creek floods during Halloween and were also involved in the successful search and rescue of a woman in the Big Bend area in southwest Texas. All TEXSAR personnel are trained according to state and federal standards. As a 501(c)3 organization, TEXSAR never charges the requesting agency for its services.