Missing toddler found

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

"God really does answer prayers." That was all Jenna Denny could muster the strength to say after her two-year-old daughter Gia was found Tuesday afternoon near County Road 4 just outside of Florala.

Gia, was with her dad, Roy, when he stopped to assist a friend having car trouble. It was when Roy was helping the friend that Gia decided to take a little walk.

What happened next is nothing short of a Christmas miracle and the collective efforts of numerous law enforcement agencies and friends.

Gia wandered off from her dad and into the woods behind the house where she and her dad had stopped to help. It wasn't long though before she was discovered as missing and a search for her whereabouts underway.

"It was reported to us about 11:47 this morning (Wednesday)," said Covington County Sheriff Anthony Clark, just one of the many assisting in the search.

"The call went out and everyone responded," he continued. "Chief (Lamar) Mitchell from Florala was already here, and then all the other units showed up."

Those units came from not only the Covington County Sheriff's Department, but the Alabama Beverage Control Board, Alabama State Troopers, 22nd Judicial District Drug Task Force, Darlington, Fla. Fire Department, Walton County, Fla. Sheriff's Department, Fort Rucker, Walton County EMS and Florala EMS, and the Covington County Sheriff's Posse.

"There were a lot of people already down here, at lunch, and everyone just rushed over to offer assistance," Clark said. "This was really a time when everyone was needed and everyone offered as much assistance as possible."

The search was conducted on land and in the air, with the Walton County Sheriff's Office and a Flatiron from Fort Rucker offering assistance in the air.

"The Flatiron was at the Florala airport for lunch, and they just took to the air to help," Clark said.

As the search continued for about an hour and 30 minutes, Jenna sat anxiously and tearfully on the ground, waiting for word on little Gia.

Around 1 p.m., a call sounded from the surrounding deputies that Gia had been discovered.

Jenna, when notified of the news, let out a cry of relief, and immediately began asking where Gia was and if she was alright.

No one could tell Jenna, but she didn't have to wait long as Lt. Paul Dean of the DTF came walking out of the forest, down the long drive with little Gia in his arms, safe and sound.

"She's OK," Dean yelled to the awaiting mom and dad.

And that's when Jenna grabbed Gia, fell to her knees and said "God really does answer prayers."

And she repeated it to everyone.

The credit for Gia's discovery has to go to one of the more unique members of our area's law enforcement - Lt. Paul Hudson's canine unit - Szupar, who found Gia curled up asleep, not too far from where Roy and the others had searched earlier.

Roy commented he needed to feed the dog really good Wednesday night, before thanking those involved with the search.

"I really want to thank the DTF," Roy said. "Y'all do a lot of good work."

"A lot of prayers were answered today," Clark said. "Everyone came together. This is a wonderful end to what could have been a tragic story."