Sanford police searched overnight Sunday for a young child who called 911 from a cellphone, but were unable to find the child or determine if he or she needed help before the call disconnected.

The Sanford police chief said the call is similar to the untraceable 911 calls the agency sees every day, but the search for the caller – which included officers activating cruiser sirens to try to pinpoint the location of the open line – drew the attention of Sanford residents who left hundreds of comments in local Facebook groups and launched their own efforts to find the child.

“Unfortunately, this call has taken on a life of its own due to Facebook,” Chief Thomas Connolly said.

Connolly said the call came into the dispatch center around 9:18 p.m. Sunday, but no number or address was associated with the call. The caller, who appeared to be a very young child, said “mommy” and “hello,” but not much else that could be clearly heard by a dispatcher.

“The child that can be heard on the phone is very young and barely communicative,” Connolly said, adding he believes the child is a year and a half to 2 years old.

Using information from cellphone carriers, police determined the call was located within several hundred meters of a commercial address on High Street. The pay-as-you-go phone was last used in June 2016, according to T-Mobile.

As officers drove through a couple of downtown neighborhoods sounding sirens, residents took to two local Facebook groups to implore others to check in on their friends and family with young children. Several residents said they walked through their neighborhoods listening for crying babies.

Because there was no associated telephone number, Sanford police could not call surrounding public safety agencies to see if they had the number in their records systems.

Connolly said it is “not unusual” for adults to give children a dead cellphone as a toy, which could have happened in this case.

“If the phone was not connected to service, it may still be able to dial a 911 call if the emergency button is pushed,” Connolly said. “There may have been enough power in the battery to make this call, but eventually the battery died and the call dropped.”

Connolly said his department receives untraceable 911 calls every day and officers follow up on every accidental 911 call for which an address can be found.

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