Missing 3-year-old Cordes Lakes girl found safe, dog stayed with her

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

CORDES LAKES -- Searchers found a 3-year-old Cordes Lakes girl who had been missing for more than 16 hours safe Friday morning, about an hour into their daylight operation.

According to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, the DPS helicopter spotted Victoria Bensch with her dog, Blue, shortly after 8:30 a.m.

"She was able to stay warm with the dog," said Sgt. Jeff Newnum. "It's probably one of the things that saved her life."

The overnight temperature in the area was in the low 30s.

"God's watching over her," Newnum said. "I just believe that. It's the resolution we were all praying for."

Searchers had been looking for the toddler, who apparently wandered away from her home with her dog, all night long. While volunteers were fanned out on the ground and deputies were searching every vehicle leaving Cordes Junction, the helicopter didn't launch Friday until the sun came up.

Newnum said searching in the daylight made all the difference.

"We could have been very close to her last night and never spotted her," Newnum said.

Victoria was reunited with her mother and then flown to Phoenix Children's Hospital for evaluation. Medics on the scene were concerned the toddler, who was wearing only a T-shirt and pants, might have suffered some frostbite.

According to investigators, Victoria's parents last saw her on the porch with her dog at about 5 p.m. yesterday. Victoria and her mother had just returned from a walk. The mother went inside for a couple of minutes, leaving Victoria and Blue to play either in the yard or on the porch. Then they disappeared.

"It was like she vanished, her and her dog," said Tracy Rutledge, Victoria's aunt, early Friday morning. "She's been out there with her dog. Hopefully he's kept her warm."

Investigators were hopeful all along that Victoria, who's described as an adventurous child, had simply wandered off. The girl's family said the dog, a Queens Heeler, would have barked if anybody had approached Victoria, but nobody saw or heard anything unusual or suspicious before she disappeared.

According to YSCO spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn, the family spent about an hour searching for Victoria before contacting authorities. While crews only had about 30 minutes of daylight to search the rugged area for the little girl, deputies launched another prong of the operation.

"We visited every registered sex offender in this community," Newnum said. "With their consent, we were able to do a search of every single sex offender's home. They were very cooperative and we were able to rule them out really quickly."

Victoria and Blue were finally found lying under a shrub about 3/4 of a mile from the Bensch home, an area she and her family know well.

Victoria's father, Ernest Bensch, said his wife called him to tell him Victoria had been found.

"Everything was going through my mind," he said, describing the long night when his little daughter was out in the cold. "I'd really love to thank them [the rescue crews] all in person."