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A 63-year-old Lewiston woman missing since Tuesday afternoon was returned to her home Wednesday morning by an alert neighbor.

Elaine Moehrle was found walking along the road, dazed and confused, when the neighbor brought her back to grateful family members.

“Obviously the community we live in communicates very well. It was out there that there was a missing person that could be wandering around the area,” said Lewiston Police Chief Christopher Salada.

Salada said Rodney Gilliam, a Lewiston-area resident who was not part of the search and rescue team, happened to drive by a woman who fit the description of the missing woman as she was walking down Chew Road on the Tuscarora Reservation.

Gilliam, 42, who works security for Smokin’ Joe’s, said he heard about the search Tuesday night. He didn’t know what Moehrle looks like, but he said he spotted a woman who appeared to be walking in the ditch and knew there was something suspicious.

“I saw an older lady with mud from her knees down. I thought that was very odd and could see her ducking into the bush like she was hiding. I thought this has gotta be the woman,” Gilliam said.

He said she was hesitant to talk and was confused, but said he spoke calmly to her and then explained that the helicopters flying overhead were looking for her and offered to drive her home.

He said some of her family members were just about ready to pull out of the driveway to aid in the search when he returned Moehrle to her home.

“They were so excited. Everyone was crying,” Gilliam said. “It feels good that I was able to do something to help.”

Gilliam said he found the woman with a bag from his store and said though they have a store that is closer to the woman’s house, it appears that she may have walked the approximately four miles to Smokin’ Joe’s on Route 31, across from Niagara Wheatfield High School, in order to get a sandwich.

“[Moehrle] told us she spent the night laying in a field, where exactly we don’t know,” Salada said. “She was cold, confused, and hungry.”

Family had told searchers on Tuesday that the woman had some medical conditions. They became concerned when Moehrle went to retrieve the mail at 2 p.m. Tuesday and then did not return.

Salada said rescuers, many of them fire department volunteers from Niagara County search and rescue, searched until midnight on Tuesday and then resumed the search Wednesday morning before 9 a.m. The two day search was called off at 10:30 a.m. when rescuers learned that the missing woman had been returned to her Upper Mountain Road home.

Salada said the search was a joint effort between the Lewiston Police and fire companies, New York State Police, Border Patrol and the Niagara County Sheriff Department, who brought in helicopters and additional all-terrain vehicles in the widened search for the Lewiston woman.

Salada said a blood hound was called to the scene, but was called off when Moehrle was found by Gilliam.

“I want to thank all the volunteers and the professional agencies for coming together,” Salada said. “Especially when it is a happy ending like this one was.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com