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Searchers find body they say is missing woman
Karla Hillen
Karla Hillen

The Bryan County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday afternoon searchers found the body of a woman authorities believe to be Karla Hillen, the 58-year-old family counselor from Richmond Hill who went missing Nov. 21.

The body was found around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday on Fort McAllister about 250 yards from where Hillen’s vehicle was found parked Nov. 24, authorities said. 

Here’s the announcement: “It is with great sadness that we must report that we found the body of a deceased female during our search today that we believe to be Ms. Hillen. Family has been notified and we hope the community will come together during this difficult time.

Please keep the family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.”

The release continued: “We would like to extend our appreciation to the South Carolina K9 Search Team, Human remains Detection K9 Unit from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, Forensic K9 Unit Richland County Coroner’s Office, K9 Search Special Operations Union South Carolina, Department of Natural Resources, Georgia State Patrol, Park Rangers, Southern Edge K9, and all individuals who assisted in our search for Ms. Hillen for all their assistance.

“This tragic event has brought forth additional resources to the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office and we are eternally grateful so many reached out to offer their services. Our department learned a lot during this time and plan on changing some of our procedures in event of possible similar future occurrences. There is something to be learned from every situation and person, and we are always striving to do better. We thank our community for their continued support,” BCSO said.

Authorities said Wednesday an autopsy is scheduled to be held.

Appeal to public

Last Friday, the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference where Karla Hillen’s husband said he worried an insulin imbalance caused by her diabetes may have somehow affected her judgment and led to her disappearance from Fort McAllister. Jamie Hillen, a retired U.S. Army bandsman and former teacher at Richmond Hill High School who recently took a job at Guantanamo Bay High School in Cuba, told reporters at BCSO’s Richmond Hill station that “none of this makes any sense to us,” while thanking law enforcement and the community for its support and appealing to anyone with information to contact BCSO.

Bryan County Sheriff Mark Crowe said at the conference there’s no evidence of foul play and no video showing Hillen left the park, on her own or with someone. He said it was also unlikely she was abducted given the crowds in the park over that time period, because someone would’ve heard that happen. “From everything we’ve seen so far, she is probably still in the area,” Crowe said Friday, noting that beginning this week specialized K9 teams from South Carolina and Florida were to help join in the search.

Crowe gave media a timeline of the case, which for authorities began when she was reported missing by a friend late Nov. 23. Her car was found at Fort McAllister the next day with only the car keys inside.

The car has since been returned to the family.

Crowe also said it appeared the “last time anyone physically laid eyes on Miss Karla,” was Saturday, Nov. 20. Her car was last seen parked in the driveway of the home she was staying at on Nov. 21, but by noon it was gone. Before she was found, and since the car was found parked at Fort McAllister on Nov. 24, repeated searches by multiple agencies have involved dogs, helicopters, boats, ATVs and more than two dozen volunteers, Crowe said.

One false trail had authorities checking evidence of a police computer ‘hit’ on Hillen in Atlanta on Thanksgiving Day, but it turned out to be a DNR agent checking her license -- apparently n order to get a photo of her.

Video from area residences, cameras at Fort McAllister and the Fish Tales restaurant and marina were poured over, Crowe said, turning up nothing.

Hillen, who was joined by family members, asked Friday that people continue to keep his wife and family in their thoughts.

“My family and I thank everyone in the community and our friends from all over for their help in the search effort, and for all the words of support and encouragement. We’ve been a part of this community for more than 20 years, Karla as a family counselor, myself as a teacher at Richmond Hill High School, and as evidenced by the outpouring of support Karla’s helped thousands of people in our area.”

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