Jamie Oberg, News 9; Jim Apel, News9.com
NORMAN, Oklahoma –- GPS shoes to track seniors went on the market this week. That's bittersweet technological news for the family of a missing 96-year-old WWII veteran from Payne County.
John Whitmore has been gone for a week. He wandered away from his Coyle home and hasn't been seen since.
His family wants other caregivers to know about the host of shoes, bracelets, cell phones and other GPS devices that are available so that they won't have to suffer through what Whitmore's family is experiencing now.
Seventy-seven year old Craig Cunningham has dementia and got turned around while driving his truck earlier this week. Norman police say, thanks to GPS technology, Cunningham was located in Frederick and returned to his family. Had it not been for the fact Cunningham was carrying a cell phone traceable with GPS, the story might not have ended so happily.
But what if a senior citizen with dementia or Alzheimer's doesn't carry a cell phone, or forgets to pick it up?
That's the idea behind several products including shoes, pendants, and bracelets with GPS devices imbedded in them. Should the wearer get lost, family and police can find them.
GPS shoes just went on sale this week. The company which makes them only has 3,000 pairs available at a cost of $300.
While Whitmore's family members wish they had such technology available to them last week, they aren't giving up hope.
"He's had quite a long life, but we hope that we'll still be able to see him here soon," Todd VanBebber said. "He's used to being outdoors all the time."
VanBebber says you'll never meet a stronger, more self-sufficient man than his great uncle, John Whitmore.
"One of the last things he discussed with relatives was he'd been in London, a medic in World War II. He's probably one of the last of the many great vets serving at that time."
As temperatures at night dip closer toward the freezing mark, VanBebber realizes the odds are growing longer with each passing day.
"With the weather being as it is, it's very rough especially at his age," he said.
Still, it wasn't his age, or his physical condition that became a threat to Whitmore. It was Alzheimer's that began taking its toll long before he walked away from home last Thursday.
Police say tracking missing persons with GPS, whether it be in cell phones or jewelry or clothing, really works. They say if more families with members at risk had access to these devices, the Silver Alert network wouldn't be nearly as overworked as it is today.
Captain Tom Easely of the Norman Police Department said the GPS devices do work.
"If you know a family member has the tendency along these lines and you have and can afford things like this to help you, then, by all means do it," he said.
VanBebber says his great uncle John and his wife couldn't afford the $300 shoes and Whitmore didn't have a cell phone.
But now, he says, he would pay anything just to see his great uncle safe at home.