Eye on KELOLAND: Searching for Serenity


BLACK HILLS, S.D. (KELO) –On February 3rd, 2019, Serenity Dennard ran away from the Black Hills Children’s Home Society. That’s when the search began. Rockerville Fire Chief Gail Schmidt has been involved since that first wintry day.

“When it was so cold and it was so dark. We as searchers had been out most of the day and it’s late at night and thinking, ‘wow, I don’t know how this is going to end,'” Schmidt said.

More than two years later, the search hasn’t ended. Serenity is still missing.

“Not being able to do that, yeah, that’s hard,” Schmidt said.

Earlier this year, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office suspended the search for the missing girl. The announcement came after 1,528 people from more than 66 agencies logged nearly 6,000 miles of searching.

“It’s the most extensive search probably in South Dakota history, certainly in our agency, in the county’s history. And we have not given up,” Capt. Harrison said.

Sydney Thorson: It has been two years now. And the search has halted a little bit.. what does that mean for you guys?

Schmidt: It’s frustrating, heartbreaking, it’s a mixture of emotions ultimately because we did spend so much time and really what we wanted to do was provide closure for the family, provide closure for the community and bring Serenity home.

Captain Tony Harrison with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office says haulting the search does not mean the investigation has stopped. The case is still open.

“There’s been two tracks to this investigation. There has been a true investigatory side and a search side, we’ve slowed down the search side but investigatory side has not stopped or slowed down,” Capt. Harrison said.

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office has logged 291 leads from 36 states and 4 countries. It conducted 491 interviews.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom says leads continue to come in about Serenity and her whereabouts.

“It’s important we keep following up because we have not found her,” Sheriff Thom said.

Sheriff Thom says the investigation into Serenity’s disappearance will not end until she is found.

“It’s important to keep the investigation alive and active so if people think of something several years later or somebody has information they didn’t share at the time and now want to share it, maybe this would encourage them to come forward with information if they do have it,” Sheriff Thom said.

Sydney Thorson: What made Serenity’s case different and maybe, made you so passionate about searching for her?

“Missing humans, in general, are of interest to the community and that’s what we do in the emergency services is to try and find those people and bring them home. Missing children, there’s just an elevated, emotional aspect that comes with that,” Schmidt said.

And for the hundreds of searchers, including Chief Schmidt, the question remains… where is Serenity Dennard?

“The fact that Serenity is right here in my own backyard, it added to it and then I have nieces who are the same age and it was hard for me to fathom, ‘Gosh, what if they would’ve been missing?’ I want these kids out there to know that, if they do go missing, we’re going to look for you,” Schmidt said.

If you have any information on where Serenity might be you can submit tips to the Pennington County Sheriff’ office.

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