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Elderly woman returns home safe, cold

LAWRENCEVILLE — About 26 hours after she’d vanished, a 72-year-old Lawrenceville woman suddenly reappeared at her home Tuesday afternoon, carrying a bag of clothes stiffened by the coldest day in metro Atlanta since last winter, authorities said.

Chang Petersen, who suffers from mild dementia, skirted about 200 law enforcement personnel and volunteers looking for her Tuesday and remained outside while temperatures dipped into the 20s. She walked up to her home about 3:30 p.m., where detectives were interrogating her adult son, who’d reported that she wandered away Monday afternoon.

“She had a frozen bag of clothes,” said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith. “We believe she was outside the whole time.”

Searches had focused on Rock Springs Park, which abuts Petersen’s subdivision. Petersen was transported to Gwinnett Medical Center to be evaluated for hypothermia. An officer fluent in Korean was slated to interview her, as detectives continued to probe her son, Smith said.

“Detectives are going to follow up to see if there weren’t any circumstances that led to her leaving,” he said.

The effort to find Petersen was substantial.

Searches that included a bloodhound unit from Hall County and dozens of volunteers wrapped at nightfall Monday. The effort was relaunched at 7 a.m. Tuesday at Rock Springs Park, a 113-acre greenspace in the north Lawrenceville area near Interstate 85 where Gwinnett police established a command center. Code enforcement officers canvassed adjacent subdivisions, handing out flyers door-to-door.

Thirty-two trained volunteer searchers from the Georgia State Defense Force descended on the park and nearby woods Tuesday from as far as Dahlonega and Rome. They dressed in thick camouflage coats and covered ravines, culverts, ponds, creek banks and deer trails across more than 150 acres, said Lt. Col. Brad Bryant.

Bryant estimated about 200 people were searching for Petersen by noon Tuesday. He said her son reported it was the first time she’d vanished.

Searchers found comfort against biting winds via coffee and warming tents.