DEEMI using aerial photography in search for missing priest from Caribou
CARIBOU, Maine — While Maine wardens have scaled back their search for 85-year-old Clement Thibodeau, who last was seen on July 15, volunteers with the Down East Emergency Medicine Institute are using all the tools at their disposal, from social media to drones, planes, and high resolution aerial photography, to find the missing former priest.
DEEMI’s search area is based on cell phone tracking, which shows Thibodeau driving south toward Springfield on July 15, and heading deep into the woods on a dirt road south of the Lee area until July 18, when his phone shut off.
DEEMI Director Richard Bowie said on Tuesday that he has been in contact with Thibodeau’s family members, who informed him that he “has poor vision in the dark,” and that he can only walk “a couple hundred feet before having to stop.”
As a result, Thibodeau’s vehicle, a gray 2013 Chevrolet Equinox with the license plate 638A, is the focal point of both DEEMI and Maine Warden Service search efforts, since it will be easier to spot and give searchers a good indication of where he might be.
DEEMI shoots several high-resolution aerial photos with a 12 megapixel camera at about 500 feet, and then shares them with three different analysts, located out of state, to study.
“We have three different analysts looking at the same images so there is redundancy,” Bowie said, emphasizing that one of DEEMI’s primary goals is to narrow down the search by confirming missing people are not in certain areas.
DEEMI was recently overwhelmed by social media feedback after creating a Facebook post asking for the public to assist in the search.
The post contained a photo with cell phone pings highlighted on a map, illustrating Thibodeau’s last known location. Those who plan on camping in the Lee area were urged to contact DEEMI via Facebook and provide coordinates for the area they planned on staying, as a way to narrow down areas not visible by air.
Bowie said on Tuesday that the post received over 40,000 views and 400 shares within one day.
“The community response has been enormous,” Bowie said.
The DEEMI director said volunteers will likely continue looking until the former priest is found, adding that there are a myriad of possible approaches they could utilize during future searches, such as flying above each mapped cell phone ping and getting a square mile of high resolution photos above each one.
“If you’re going camping in the area, make sure you do not search alone,” Bowie said, fearing someone might get lost or injured. “Always search in pairs.”
Those who believe they have information regarding Thibodeau or his vehicle also are urged to contact the Caribou Police Department at 493-3301.
More than 100 friends, relatives and supporters filled the Sacred Heart Church in Caribou on Aug. 2 to pray for the well-being of Thibodeau, who retired from the priesthood in 2001 to the farm in Connor, near Caribou, where he grew up.
His lengthy service as a priest included stints at St. Mary Catholic Church in Bangor, St. Mary’s in Eagle Lake, Notre Dame in Waterville, and St. Joseph’s in Gardiner. He spent 17 years as a teacher at St. Ignatius High School in Sanford and taught religious studies at Nason College in Springvale.
Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Catholic Diocese of Portland issued a statement on Aug. 8 offering “sincere thanks to the many public safety officials and local residents who have searched for Fr. Clement Thibodeau in recent weeks.
“The Maine Warden Service and Caribou Police Department have assured us that their investigations will remain open until he is found,” Deeley said in the statement.
“The outpouring of prayers and concern since his disappearance illustrates how Fr. Thibodeau’s priestly service has planted and nurtured seeds of faith in those who have benefited from his spiritual leadership and compassion. The diocese continues to pray for Fr. Thibodeau and those who are working tirelessly to find him.”