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Phone call from Florida helps find missing Halifax man

One phone call from A Child is Missing, a Florida-based nonprofit, helped find Alphonza Byrd, a Halifax County man who had been missing for four days.

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HALIFAX, N.C. — One phone call by a Florida-based nonprofit helped find a Halifax County man who had been missing for four days.

At the request of the Halifax County Sheriff's Office, the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons issued a Silver Alert for Alphonza Byrd, 46, who has schizophrenia, on Tuesday. Then, the center contacted A Child is Missing, a nonprofit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Joyce Chambliss, Byrd's cousin who has lived in the same neighborhood for 30 years, got a call from the nonprofit saying that Byrd was missing. The call made a memory from her recent walk click, she said.

"Black male, jeans, shirt, boots, late 40s. I said, 'Didn't we just see him?'" said Chambliss, who calls her cousin Fonzi. "I saw somebody walking. So I said, 'That's Fonzi.'"

Chambliss found Byrd in a cemetery that is hidden from plain sight but only a few hundred yards from his home.

"You can't see him if you didn't know where to look. And I knew where to look," Chambliss said.

Around 1,000 other residents got the call from A Child is Missing at the same time Chambliss did. It was the first time the Halifax County Sheriff's Office used the nonprofit's free services.

"I think it's a fairly unknown agency, and I think it's starting to come out more now," said Lt. Bobby Martin, with the Halifax County Sheriff's Office.

State officials praised the nonprofit's effectiveness at helping find missing people. The state has worked with A Child is Missing since the Silver Alert program began in 2007.

"It's a very successful program, especially when you have an immediate walk-away, if you can get these 1,000 phone calls out in the first hour," Nona Everette, with the N.C. Center for Missing Persons, said.

Representatives for the nonprofit said they were involved in approximately 1,800 missing persons cases in 2008, including 33 in North Carolina. Nonprofit officials said that number represents a steady increase in the amount of North Carolina cases with which they are involved.

Martin said that he expects that once word gets out about A Child is Missing, he expects more North Carolina agencies will seek the nonprofit's help.

As for himself, Martin said, he's got the group "on speed dial."