On Friday, May 22, The Highland County Press reported that a considerable gathering of community volunteers were planning to start their Saturday morning with a widespread search for Madison Bell. Bell, 18, as reported, was a popular McClain High School cheerleader and 2020 MHS graduate.

Also as previously reported, a nationwide search began early this past week for the missing 18-year-old. Volunteers from around the region as well as local, state and federal law enforcement conducted the search and investigation.

From Sunday, May 17 until Friday, May 22, all we heard from readers was the well-known phrase of "thoughts and prayers."

Nothing wrong with that, whatsoever. As long as you mean it.

On Saturday, May 23, in a one-sentence news release, Sheriff Donnie Barrera reported that Madison Bell had been located and is safe.

In an early morning telephone call, Sheriff Barrera said Bell has been located and indicated she wanted to "start a new life."

Her parents were notified of her safety, he said.

I posted that story on our website shortly thereafter. In three days, the story has been viewed more than 75,000 times. We have received more than 300 comments, almost all of which voiced concern over the way this entire situation unfolded.

More than a few people made references to Patty Hearst. I'm guessing these were some of our older readers. For a brief background, Patricia Campbell Hearst is the granddaughter of newspaperman William Randolph Hearst. She was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, took the name of "Tania," and joined them in their criminal activities. After being found by the FBI in 1975, she was tried and convicted of bank robbery in 1976 and served nearly two years of her sentence. In 2001, she was pardoned by President Clinton.

There is no evidence thus far that Madison Bell and Patty Hearst have anything in common.

Of all of our readers' comments, let me say that we hear you, and we understand your frustration.

We have been in contact with law enforcement and the Highland County prosecutor. To date, there does not seem to be any desire to pursue criminal charges against the 18-year-old, any accomplice(s) or any family members. Should that change, we'll do our best to report on it.

Many of our readers have suggested – if not demanded – that law enforcement file a charge of inducing panic on Bell (or, perhaps, a family member).

I have talked with some in the legal profession who believe such a charge is in order, given the six days of searches and investigations by taxpayer-funded first responders and unpaid volunteers.

Section 2917.31 – inducing panic – of the Ohio Revised Code states:

(A), (3) Committing any offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission will cause serious public inconvenience or alarm.

(1) Whoever violates this section is guilty of inducing panic.

(2) Except as otherwise provided in division (C)(3), (4), (5), (6), (7), or (8) of this section, inducing panic is a misdemeanor of the first degree.

(3) Except as otherwise provided in division (C)(4), (5), (6), (7), or (8) of this section, if a violation of this section results in physical harm to any person, inducing panic is a felony of the fourth degree.

(4) Except as otherwise provided in division (C)(5), (6), (7), or (8) of this section, if a violation of this section results in economic harm, the penalty shall be determined as follows:

(a) If the violation results in economic harm of $1,000 or more but less than $7,500 and if division (C)(3) of this section does not apply, inducing panic is a felony of the fifth degree.

(b) If the violation results in economic harm of $7,500 or more but less than $150,000, inducing panic is a felony of the fourth degree.

(c) If the violation results in economic harm of $150,000 or more, inducing panic is a felony of the third degree.

Others have maintained that it is not against the law for an adult to simply go away.

The issue for law enforcement is this: Was an act committed of reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission will cause serious public inconvenience or alarm?

I think the reasonable answer is in the affirmative. The unknown is this: Who committed the act?

Maybe law enforcement, in the coming days, will have more than a one-sentence news release to explain it.

Meanwhile, taxpayers, volunteers and all those who have contributed to finding the young lady ought to receive a public apology and an explanation. The sooner, the better.

When it comes to public sentiment, what this newspaper has not published, rest assured, social media have and continue to do so.

There are many questions in all of this, not the least of which involves the live-in boyfriend.

I have three sisters and two daughters. There is not a chance in Hades that my father – or this guy – would tolerate any such arrangement for five seconds. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but some things just shouldn't be considered and accepted as the norm.

Other than my own comment intended to explain why 300 other comments have not been posted here (I have read and saved them), we have posted two comments on the story that Bell is alive and well.

This one from my friend Leslie Ramsey sums up many of the other comments.

"Although the public does not have access to all law enforcement investigation data, everyone who searched for this young woman these past six days are to be commended for their diligence and concerns about her safety. Tremendous amounts of time and monetary resources were provided not only by law enforcement but also by the general public as the search continued. Thankfully, Miss Bell has been found alive and well, but serious questions remain surrounding this entire incident. She is now considered an adult under our laws, and I feel she should be held accountable for her actions that created widespread panic and should readily accept any consequences that it triggers. To be considered an adult means taking responsibility for individual decisions that affect not just us, personally, but for everyone around us. If Maddie Bell wants a 'new life,' it begins by apologizing to the hundreds of law enforcement personnel and citizens from everywhere across this nation who got involved with the search."

Thanks, Leslie. You expressed the same sentiments of almost every one of our readers who have taken the time to communicate their feelings.

Barring any further investigation or criminal charges, members of the community are owed three things: An approximate expense report from all taxpayer-funded agencies involved in this, a reimbursement of donated funds, and a sincere apology from whoever was involved in causing the so-called panic.

Lastly, let's note what our friend and columnist Jim Thompson said today: "There is something to celebrate here, though, with this group of volunteers. That is that they valued human life enough to drop what they were doing and look for another human that may be in peril. That's good. However, being angry at her safe return should not be an emotion let loose on her or even possibly her family. Wasn't the outcome the one you wanted?"

As a parent of three, I will agree with that final statement.

Good luck to Madison Bell.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.