Gateway: News

Power of social media helps find Gig Harbor wandering senior citizen with Alzheimer’s

Gig Harbor resident Sherrie Wilkie didn’t think much of it when her elderly father asked to walk back to ManorCare Health Services after the two finished running an errand at Uptown Shopping Center on Thursday afternoon in Gig Harbor.

His wife was temporarily staying at the facility off 45th St., a few blocks from the shopping complex, and 78-year-old Wally Tallman was in good shape for his age.

“He can walk for days,” Wilkie said.

Tallman, a longtime janitor at Peninsula High School, was also familiar with that area, having attended Peninsula Christian Fellowship for years, Wilkie said.

Wally Tallman, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, got lost in Gig Harbor last week while walking back to a care center after running an errand. A citywide search found him nearly four hours later and almost three miles away from his intended destination. Courtesy

After saying goodbye, Wilkie got in her car and headed home. But somewhere on the short walk back to ManorCare, Tallman who suffers from Alzheimer’s, got confused. He strayed from the route back to the facility and started heading north.

Wilkie parted ways with her father at about 1:30 p.m. at Uptown and got a call from her mother about an hour later alerting her that Tallman hadn’t shown up.

“I knew he was just confused,” Wilkie said of her father.

Knowing his love of taking taxicabs everywhere, Wilkie immediately starting calling local cab companies to ask if they had picked up anyone matching his description. She then got in her car and started driving around town searching herself, while also alerting Gig Harbor police. After a few frantic minutes of not finding him, Wilkie turned to social media to expand the search.

She made a post on the Gig Harbor’s Most Wanted – Town Talk! Facebook page, a private group with more than 16,300 members. She put out a description of her father and left her phone number in order to broaden the search.

Within minutes of her post, Gig Harbor resident Susan Varney was sitting shotgun browsing the Town Talk page while her 16-year-old daughter, Lily, was sitting at the stoplight at Wollochet Dr. NW after exiting state Route 16 west.

“I looked up and (Wally) was there,” Varney said. “I told my daughter, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the guy!’”

While her daughter didn’t know exactly who she was talking about, she pulled over and her mother jumped out to try and get a closer look at Tallman.

“I saw (Tallman) walking on the overpass and I started walking after him,” Varney said.

After Varney positively identified Tallman, she quickly dialed Wilkie. Wilkie almost didn’t pick up her phone — she usually doesn’t answer out-of-state calls — as Varney’s number is a 619 area code, from her former residence near San Diego.

“I’m very glad I picked up (the call),” Wilkie said.

Father and daughter were soon reunited — more than four hours and three miles later — and a grateful Wilkie was overcome with gratitude for the community of Gig Harbor.

“People left their homes to go looking for him,” she said of people seeing her post.

During the time Tallman was missing, Gig Harbor police notified a host of area agencies to ask people to keep an eye out for him. The department was even close to calling in Search and Rescue teams to help and look for him as well, said Lt. Fred Douglas.

“Our thought was that businesses were still open, and if we got the word out hopefully someone would see him,” Douglas said.

While the Town Talk! page is often filled with posts detailing people’s bad experiences with area restaurants, complaints about owners not picking up after their pets or people lamenting the area’s growing pains, all those involved agreed it was nice to see some good can come out of using the page.

“It was just really crazy that I read that post at the exact time that I saw him,” Varney said. “If you can have one positive thing that comes out of having the page, then I think it’s worth it.”

Tallman is now back in the care of ManorCare staff members while his wife recovers — albeit under some different circumstances.

“Now he is on a short leash,” Wilkie said.

Tyler Hemstreet: 253-358-4150, @gateway_tyler