Three-Year-Old Jefferson County Girl Is Found Safe After Being Lost For 50 Hours in Rugged Blue Ridge Mountains

Published January 2nd 1958 in the Spirit Old Jefferson Farmers' Advocate
By Don Rentch

On the west side of Mission Rd.
Shown above is the log cabin home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ramsburg, and their two children and one of the two high ranges of the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains, Southeast of Charles Town where tragedy nearly struck last weekend. In the picture Mr. Ramsburg is shown standing near his two-room home and pointing to the high mountain terrain in the background where his daughter Shirley Ann was found Sunday evening about two miles from her home.
"...The World stands out on either side No wider than the heart is wide..."

These famous lines of verse penned years ago by Edna St. Vincent Millay, certainly had a very meaningful application Sunday, Dec. 27, when a "miracle of the mountains" brought an unheard of pretty little three-year old blonde haired girl who had been missing for some 50 hours, out of the wilderness of the rugged Blue Ridge mountains which separate West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle from Virginia and into the nation's news spotlight.

Yes, the nightmare which little Shirley Ann Ramsburg, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ramsburg RFD 2, Harpers Ferry, managed to survive is all over now. And the ending to one of the most heart-wringing and stirring stories of 1957 has been a happy one. The little star of the Yuletide episode is now being showered with more kindness and tender care than she has ever known, by nurses and her doctor at the Charles Town General Hospital where she was taken shortly after being found cold and dirty on a rugged mountainside about 5 p. m. Sunday evening.

Dr. Donald K. McIntyre, attending physician, said today, while Shirley Ann had suffered from severe exposure and shock, her condition is good and now after four days of "thawing out" he expects no complications, not even with her frost-nipped feet. He said immediately after her arrival at the hospital, and after a thorough examination, the child was given serum injections to prevent blood clotting during a gradual thawing out period.

Numbed by shock and sedation as the result of wandering for two nights in sub-freezing temperatures in the mountains, Shirley Ann refused steadfastly at first to talk or eat. She did take a little water however.

When asked questions she only whimpered. The first word she uttered was "Mommy". It wasn't until some 36 hours after she had been saved from what would certainly soon had been death, that the little girl took her first bite of food and began to show signs of brightening up.

Surely the nightmare of the mountains which the he thinly clad and barefooted youngster experienced is gone. But it's questionable how long the memories of those 50 harrowing hours will linger with little Shirley. Today some four days after she was brought out of the mountains, she still seems scared and confused at the hospital.

(Photo by Tim Sinn)

Shirley Ann Is Going to Be Fine
Safe and comfortable, although still suffering from shock and confusion, is little three-year-old 'Shirley Ann Ramsburg as she slowly recuperates in the Charles Town General Hospital, from her harrowing experience in the rugged mountains southeast of Charles Town. Shown in bed with the child are some toy dolls and a toy dog, some of the many gifts which have been brought to the hospital for Shirley Ann since she was admitted to the hospital Sunday evening. Shirley is making a rapid recovery.

It had been two days since the rest of the Christmas world had observed another Christmas. But in the log cabin home in which the Ramsburgs live in one of the most remote sections of Jefferson county, about 15 miles Southeast of Charles Town, Christmas day had been just another day for little Shirley Ann and her one older brother-Robert Thomas, Jr.

With Mr. Ramsburg, working only a few days a week as a laborer, there was not even enough money to provide the necessities for the family, much less take on any added financial burden at Christmas time. Some kind neighbor had sent in some oranges and a little rubber doll for Shirley Ann the day before Christmas. That was Christmas at the Ramsburg home.

It was about 10:30 Saturday morning, Dec. 28 when Mr. Ramsburg walked into the State Police barracks in Charles Town and asked State Trooper A. J. Wade who was on duty at the time, for some help in searching for his little girl he said had been missing from their home since about 3 P.M. Friday.

Tired and weary from hours of searching the rugged mountain terrain late Friday afternoon and Friday night, Mr. Ramsburg slowly gave Trooper Wade the details including a description of the child and what she was wearing when last seen.

Mr. Ramsburg said little Shirley had been playing near the house Friday afternoon with her little brown mongrel dog "Music". A*round 3 p.m. Mrs. Ramsburg noticed both the little girl and the dog were gone. Mr. Ramsburg immediately began a search of the house and in the area near the house, but neither Shirley Ann, nor the dog was around. At 4 p.m. Mr. Ramsburg came down the mountain path to his home and was told by his wife that their little daughter had disappeared.

At about the same time the little dog "Music" came down the path wagging his tail. Mr. Ramsburg immediately started out in search of the child, moving in the same direction from which the dog had come. Some distance up the mountain road he came upon a car in which were four people. He inquired of them if they had seen the little girl. They said they had not, and inquired as to how they might find a road which would take them into nearby Virginia.

Mr. Ramsburg then walked about a mile and half farther up the mountain road to the home of George Armstrong where he inquired about the child. On learning she had not been seen he and Mr. Armstrong began a search for the child. Ramsburg told Trooper Wade he and Armstrong had searched the area near the house and a part of the mountainside until late Friday night and after their efforts failed they decided to call for more help in the search Saturday morning.

Had there been a telephone at the Ramsburg home, or a telephone close by Mr. Ramsburg said he would have notified police that night, but since a narrow mountain road which the Ramsburgs had to travel some two miles by foot was their only means of contact even with their nearest neighbor, he said it was not until some 18 hours after the child's disappearance he was able to report It.

Trooper Wade hurriedly called State Trooper R. R. Truex who was also on duty, Jefferson County Sheriff C. A. Hehle and N. Clark Furr, chief of the Charles Town Independent Fire Company and asked their help in forming a searching party.

Within minutes, Troopers Wade and. Truex, Sheriff Hehle, Furr and about 30 volunteer members of the Charles Town Independent and Citizens fire companies were heading Into the mountains to begin what proved to be a long and weary but successful search.

The search began in and around the house and in a number of near by barns and outbuildings along with a close examination of two wells near the house. Then as more volunteers joined the party the search was expanded with one group scouring the banks along the Shenandoah River which flows About 400 yards in the rear of the log home; another group covered some pasture land to the West of the home; and two other groups headed into the mountains which rise on two sides of the house. About 3 p. m. the cry came up from in the direction of the river that a little girl's green and white cotton hat had been found. But hopes that she might be somewhere in the area where the hat was found were dashed when Mrs. Ramsburg said Shirley Ann had not been wearing the hat the day before when she disappeared. It had been missing for sometime, Mrs. Ramsburg stated.

Shortly before 4 p. m. Saturday both the air and ground units of the Civil Air Patrol from Martinsburg joined in the search. A Civil Air Patrol cub plane from the Martinsburg Airport, flying low over the area, scanned the river banks for some signs of the child or the blue coat which she had been wearing when last seen.

With the emergency communications unit of the Charles Town Independent Fire Company and a communications unit from the Civil Air Patrol in the area, plus several portable units in jeeps, a radio communication was set up with the Charles Town city and State Police offices in Charles Town and the various searching parties.

Trooper Wade made contact with Corporal I. P. Richardson in the Charles Town State Police barracks and asked that efforts be made to secure bloodhounds and bring them into the area.

Corporal Richardson contacted Loudoun County Sheriff Roger F. Powell who in turn contacted B. P. Lockhart of Virginia Road Camp No. 30, Fairfax, Va. Lockhart agreed to bring two bloodhounds into the area within a hour. By the time the bloodhounds arrived, Sheriff Powell and one of his deputies had also joined the search.

Shortly after 7 p. m. when the bloodhounds had twice led more than 100 searchers to the edge of the Shenandoah River only about 400 yards from the Ramsburg home, after first heading into the general area in which little Shirley Ann was later found, the search was called off until early Sunday morning. Plans were made late Saturday night to begin dragging the river Sunday morning.

About 10 Sunday morning Clark Furr and members of the two Charles Town fire departments put three boats into the Shenandoah River to drag along the river banks. At the same time Sheriff Hehle took a searching party into one section of the mountainside and Trooper R. R. Truex headed with another party went into another area of the mountains. At the same time in the air, radio-TV personality Arthur Godfrey flew a helicopter with Sheriff Roger Powell and later Trooper Truex as his passengers and spotters. Also taking part in the aerial search were two Civil Air Patrol planes from Martinsburg.

As the hours rolled by, the number of volunteer searchers increased, with more CAP members moving in along with firemen from Martinsburg, Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry. Shortly before noon a Red Cross mobile unit moved into the area and served hot coffee and sandwiches to the searchers.

Around noon time hopes of finding the little girl were again raised when a pair of red gloves, found in the mountains not far away, were brought in by a searcher. Once again, however, the hopes were dashed when Mrs. Ramsburg said they did not belong to Shirley Ann.

Then shortly after 1 p.m. a searcher reported to Sheriff Hehle with a little brown leather shoe he had found on a mountain path about a mile and a half from the Ramsburg (home). Mr. Ramsburg, who had come to his home to rest for a time was quickly dispatched via jeep to the spot where the shoe had been found under a fence and he identified it as being one which Shirley had been wearing. He told Sheriff Hehle he was sure the child must be in the area somewhere because the shoe had not been there late Saturday afternoon when he and other searchers had covered that area.

With this good news Sheriff Hehle then sent out a call via radio asking for more volunteer searchers. He also asked members of the Battery "B" National Guard Unit to join the search as soon as possible, and called for bloodhounds to be brought back into the area as quickly as possible.

Corporal Richardson hurried to the Virginia State line to pick up a bloodhound brought in from Virginia State Road Camp No. 7 at White Post, Va. And it was put into the search about 4 P.M.

In order to get as many men as possible in to the area, the search of the river was stopped and all searching efforts were concentrated in the first and second mountain ridges.

At 3:30 members of the National Guard unit arrived on the scene and at the same time more volunteers from Martinsburg arrived among them Harry W. George, Rt. 4, Martinsburg and Bill Rogers also of Martinsburg.

With these reinforcements more than 250 searchers were thrown into the area. And at 5 P. M. just minutes before a halt would have been called to the search because of approaching darkness. Harry George spotted the little girl lying on one side beside a tree about two miles from her home directly in the patch which had been trod before by searchers.

George said he thought at first the child was dead. But when he touched her she opened her eyes and whimpered. Her cotton coat was lying on the ground nearby, but she had both her shoes and socks.

Word was immediately flashed down the mountainside to the Civil Patrol radio unit that the child had been found and was alive. Within seconds the mountains seemed to be ringing with the words
"Shirley's been found and she's alive".

A station wagon which had been taken part way up the mountainside to be used as an emergency ambulance should the child be found was called for. Within minutes little Shirley, wrapped in a blanket, was being hauled down the mountainside and enroute to the Charles Town Hospital.

With the radio communications which had been set up at the area word was flashed into Charles Town that the child had been found even before the ambulance had started the 15 mile drive to the hospital.

In Charles Town the word must have fanned like a fire because as the State Police escort and ambulance moved through town and to the hospital huge crowds of people were standing on the streets and waiting at the hospital to see the child's arrival and hear of her condition.

At the hospital cold, hungry and dirty the little girl was seen to have a number of brush scratches upon her face, legs and feet as the result of her wanderings through the mountainous terrain. It could also be seen that her feet were either frozen or frostbitten. It later proved that they were only frostbitten and not badly at that.

With the finding of Shirley Ann the spotlight switched from the Ramsburg home to the hospital where it wasn't long before it was evident that the little girl was going to have the best Christmas possibly she had ever experienced even though it had come four days late. Gifts were sent to her as tidings of good cheer by both children and adults of Jefferson county who little Shirley Ann has never known and probably never will know.


There's One Missing---Shirley Ann
Shown above are Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ramsburg and their year-old son, Robert Thomas Ramsburg. Jr. standing in the doorway of the two room log cabin home. Also shown is "Music" the little brown mongrel dog which Shirley Ann was playing with when she and the dog disappeared from the Ramsburg home Friday afternoon. December 27th shortly after 3:00 P. M. The dog came back home a short time later, but it was some 50 hours later before anything was seen of the little girl. (Photo by Tim Sinn)

As Shirley Ann was being taken out of the mountains darkness descended, blotting out the sun which had shone brightly 'all day Saturday and Sunday. But unlike the two dark and dreary nights which Shirley had spent wandering in the mountains, the stars and moon were out this night in full glory. Within minutes after Shirley Ann had been found the area around the Ramsburg home became quiet and peaceful once again. Inside the home the true and full meaning of "Peace on Earth Goodwill Toward Men", was much in evidence. The expression on the face of the child's mother once again showed peace-peace of mind and the many articles of food and clothing which filled the kitchen table and cupboard which had been all but bare when Shirley Ann was evidence enough of the good will toward men which Jefferson county had shown once again.