Legal expert weighs in on disappearance, search for Madison Bell

Legal expert weighs in on disappearance, search for Madison Bell

HIGHLAND CO., Ohio (FOX19) - Almost a week-long search for Madison “Maddie” Bell is over after she was found on Saturday, but people have questions about what is next.

According to Highland County Sheriff Donald Barrera, Bell “left to start a new life” on Sunday, May 17.

Related | Highland County 18-year-old found; ‘left to start new life’ sheriff says

In the time of her disappearance, volunteers descended upon Highland County and fanned out across the region, disbursing flyers as far away as Kentucky.

The FBI and Texas EquuSearch joined the search as well.

One of the biggest questions viewers are asking FOX19 NOW is: after days of searching and Bell turning up safe and sound, leaving on her own free will, who is responsible for six-days of police efforts, the FBI joining in and the Greenfield Police Department’s effort to track her down?

Bell, who is an adult, can do as she wishes.

We asked legal experts if Bell or the family could face any potential charges.

“I don’t know of anything criminal that could be done,” explained FOX19 NOW legal expert Mike Allen. “On the civil end, you know anybody can sue anybody for anything, but I don’t see that being successful either. I think, the thought would be that ‘hey, you know that’s the cops’ job.' I understand where people are coming from with it, but I don’t see any avenue to recovery on a civil action either.”

Bell was with “the person of interest” while law enforcement, family and friends searched for her.

But Sheriff Barerra was not able to confirm if that person was the man police released a photo of on Thursday.

Bell’s family released this statement upon learning that she was found safe:

“We ask that the public and media respect our privacy during this difficult time while we are emotionally raw. We are just relieved to know Maddie is alive and not in physical danger. Thank you to every single person who looked for Maddie including Rescue 101 Search and Rescue, Texas EquuSearch, the amazing members of our local community, and volunteers that came from other areas to search for our daughter. Thank you to everyone who donated on Maddie’s behalf to assure we had reward money to offer for her safe return. Thank you to the law enforcement agencies and members for their hard work over the past six days, and for leaving no rock unturned. Thanks to friends and family who have supported us during the most difficult time of our lives. Every single effort to find Maddie has touched us and we appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts.”

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