HELENWOOD — The most exhaustive search yet for Helenwood Detour Road’s Dowell Phillips continued to yield few clues as to the whereabouts of the missing preacher.
Phillips, 54, has been missing since early December. On a warm but damp Saturday morning, scores of volunteers from local and regional rescue squads combined forces with law enforcement authorities and others to search the wooded areas near Phillips’ home, but turned up no sign of his location.
The forests behind Phillips’ Detour Road home, which range from open hardwoods to thicketed areas, were first searched by members of the church he pastors — Old Concord Baptist — and by law enforcement personnel in the days after he went missing. The search in those initial days — which included a foot search, a search using Tennessee Department of Corrections-trained bloodhounds and an air search using a helicopter from the Tennessee Highway Patrol — were centered on hopes of finding Phillips alive, perhaps injured from a fall or lost in the woods near his home.
With more than a month having elapsed since Phillips was last seen walking a gravel road near his home on Dec. 5, family members hold out hope that the 54-year-old is still alive. Missing posters with Phillips’ photo are posted in various locations throughout the community.
Law enforcement personnel say they have no reason to suspect foul play. Scott County Sheriff Mike Cross said Saturday that an “electronic surveillance of certain aspects” of Phillips’ life had been completed with still no clues as to his whereabouts. That led authorities to double down on search efforts in the wooded areas behind the Phillips residence.
Saturday’s search involved rescue squad personnel from squads in Scott County, Jellico, LaFollette, Claiborne County, Cumberland County, Union County and Bell County, Ky., in addition to local firefighters, several volunteers from the Runners For Christ organization and members of Phillips’ family.
Searchers concentrated their efforts in a wooded area south of the private lane where he frequently walked. After gathering at the National Guard Armory on nearby Airport Road, searchers staged from an area just behind Phillips’ home, with the Scott County Rescue Squad’s Mike Chambers and Laura Cannon helping to coordinate the effort from the staging area, along with Scott County Sheriff’s Department chief deputy Ronnie Phillips and Detective Randy Lewallen, who has led the investigation into Phillips’ disappearance.
In the meantime, a team led by SCSD Detective Tommy Silcox combed the forests south of the Ernest Billingsley farm between John Long Road and Detour Road.
Surveying the vast wooded area from a vantage point along a TVA power line right-of-way along the headwaters of Greasy Creek, Sheriff Cross acknowledged that even with the 68 searchers who took part in Saturday’s effort, located someone who might have had an accident or fallen ill while wandering in the forest would require a bit of luck.
“There’s just a lot of territory in there,” Cross said. “We’ve had the bloodhounds all in there. And the THP helicopter allowed us to see down into the open woods well, but there is a lot of thick areas we couldn’t see into.”