The search continues for a Fulton woman who has been missing since the beginning of February, or possibly earlier.
Officials with the Fulton Police Department are still hunting the whereabouts of Deborah Evans-Bell, who was reported missing by her husband on Feb. 8. Bell is in her mid-50s and a resident of East Hill Street.
Bell allegedly left home for a doctor’s appointment but never returned. A military veteran, Bell frequented several VA medical facilities, including the Memphis VA Medical Center, the Tupelo VA Clinic and the Plantersville Family Clinic. Bell doesn’t drive, police officials say, and would often catch rides with friends or family, or utilize an area transit company, when she needed to travel.
Authorities don’t know which clinic Bell was supposed to visit on the day she went missing, but she never arrived at any of the clinics she frequents.
On Saturday, residents of the area surrounding East Hill Street gathered for a community-wide meeting to discuss Bell’s disappearance and search the area for any possible clues. Fulton Police Chief Reggie Johnson, who attended the event, said there’s a feeling of helplessness among Bell’s family and friends.
“They just wanted to go walking around the community to see if they could find an article of clothing, or just anything that has to do with Deborah Bell,” he said.
Bell was well-known around Fulton, even outside her neighborhood. She frequently walked the downtown courtsquare, visiting with local business owners and officials.
Although was reported missing earlier this month, Johnson said many of those police have interviewed claim she hasn’t been seen since early January.
“We’ve talked to dozens and dozens of friends and relatives, but we’re just not coming up with anything,” he said. “Nobody’s seen hide nor hair of her.”
For the time being, police are still investigating Bell’s disappearance as a missing persons case, not a crime.
“We’ve had no indication of foul play,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping and praying she’s just gone off somewhere.”
If that’s the case, finding her may prove difficult. There’s a fine line between a genuine disappearance and a perfectly-legal situation in which a person just wants to leave home and not be found. That makes seemingly obvious investigative techniques like checking phone records to see where calls are being made difficult legally.
“If you want to leave town, you’re an adult and have every right to do so without Reggie Johnson digging through your phone records,” he explained. “It’s not against the law to up and leave one day.”
The Fulton Police Department has subpoenaed to have Bell’s phone records released. That order will have to come from a circuit court judge, which may take time.
For now, the search continues the old-fashioned way: through legwork, conversation and patience.
“It’s a waiting game,” Johnson said. “In the meantime, we’re doing what e can to find her. It’s like fitting a puzzle together; right now, we’re getting the small pieces and putting them together.”
Johnson’s hoping someone will eventually come forward with new information that will lead to Bell.
“There may be someone out there right now who knows where she is and doesn’t even know she’s missing,” he said. “We’re looking for that break. We just haven’t found it yet.”
Anyone with information that could lead to Bell’s whereabouts are asked to contact Crime Stoppers of Northeast Mississippi at 800-773-TIPS or the Fulton Police Department at 662-862-3441.