Highland County 18-year-old found; ‘left to start new life’ sheriff says

Published: May. 22, 2020 at 9:24 PM EDT
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UPDATE 5/23/20:

A Highland County teen missing since May 17 has been found safe, the Highland County sheriff confirms.

Sheriff Donald Barrera says that they are glad that Madison “Maddie” Bell is safe and unharmed.

The sheriff says Bell did not turn herself in but was located by law enforcement.

Barerra says the 18-year-old was not found locally.

Bell is not considered a runaway because she is not a minor, Barrera says, but she did leave of her own free will.

Sheriff Barerra says she “left to start a new life."

Bell was with “the person of interest” but Barerra was not able to confirm if that person was the man police released a photo of on Thursday.

The sheriff says he spoke with the Highland County Prosecutor and nothing can be done regarding the number of resources used to look for the 18-year-old because she is an adult who left of her own free will.

Bell was last seen on Sunday when she told her mother she was going tanning. Her car was found in a church parking lot with her cell phone inside later that day.

Her family released this statement upon learning that she was found safe:

“We ask that the public and media respect our privacy during this difficult time while we are emotionally raw. We are just relieved to know Maddie is alive and not in physical danger. Thank you to every single person who looked for Maddie including Rescue 101 Search and Rescue, Texas EquuSearch, the amazing members of our local community, and volunteers that came from other areas to search for our daughter. Thank you to everyone who donated on Maddie’s behalf to assure we had reward money to offer for her safe return. Thank you to the law enforcement agencies and members for their hard work over the past six days, and for leaving no rock unturned. Thanks to friends and family who have supported us during the most difficult time of our lives. Every single effort to find Maddie has touched us and we appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts.



An advocate from the Mid-Ohio Valley is using time away from work amid the pandemic, to help search for a missing Ohio teen.

Emily Nestor joined in on the search for 18-year-old Bell, whose disappearance is gaining attention on a local, state, and national level. Ohio leaders such as Governor Mike Dewine and Attorney General Dave Yost have also highlighted the missing teen.

Bell was last seen on Sunday, May 17 after heading out for a tanning appointment in Highland County. Authorities say they believe she never made it there. Her abandoned car was found in a nearby church parking lot, unlocked with her keys and cell phone inside.

Nestor says she credits those from the small town of Greenfield for allowing Bell's story to get as publicized as it has.

"To them, this is personal", said Nestor. "This isn't just a missing girl, this is their missing girl".

Local authorities, the Texas Equusearch, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI are involved in the search for Bell. Volunteers have descended upon Highland County and fanned out across the region, disbursing flyers as far away as Kentucky.

Investigators released several photos Thursday of a man that may have knowledge of what happened to Bell, or least may have seen her.

A large-scale search for the high school senior will be held Saturday.

Anyone with information on her disappearance is being asked to call the hotline at 844.727.9111 or the Highland County Sheriff’s Office at 937.393.1421.

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