Police Still Chasing Leads on 9-Year-Old Girl Who Disappeared into South Dakota Wilderness

Harriet Sokmensuer

Nine months after 9-year-old Serenity Dennard went missing after she ran away from her residential children’s home, South Dakota police are still chasing leads on her whereabouts.

“We follow leads weekly,” Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom tells PEOPLE of the search efforts. “We’ve been persistent.”

He continued: “But it’s important to find Serenity and we’ve made it a priority, and as long as we have information to follow we’ll continue to follow up on the information.”

Serenity ran away from the Black Hills Children’s Home on Feb. 3. The area surrounding the Rockerville facility is mountainous, with deep valleys and thick forests. The search for her turned into a recovery effort days after she disappeared due to severe cold weather.

In April, the Sheriff’s Office also revealed that K-9 units had picked up a cadaver scent within a mile of where Serenity was last seen alive, but that hasn’t stopped the search.

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Before she vanished in February, Serenity had threatened to run away from the Children’s Home. She attempted to leave once before, but was stopped by a staff member.

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Pennington County Sheriff's Office

Serenity’s adoptive father, Chad, tells PEOPLE because of her unstable upbringing in the foster care system, Serenity struggles with severe reactive attachment disorder and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, which sometimes triggered her to act out by threatening to harm herself or run away.

“When things get too comfortable for her, she just goes,” Chad says. “Because comfortable to her is an alien thing. She wants to do something new, so at the children’s home she wasn’t the new kid anymore and she just wanted to change.”

As the cold weather returns, Thom says he still holds out hope in finding the little girl.

“It’s a challenge,” Thom says. “We feel for the family, of course. The family and Serenity are the priority.”

Anyone with information about Serenity’s whereabouts is urged to call the Pennington Sheriff’s Office at (605) 394-6115.