Home, sweet home.

September 2, 2017

Santana and Joann Rennhack with Clarissa, Charlotte and Rusty.

Home, sweet home.


By Allison Scarbrough. Editor.

HART — The two young Hart girls who ran away from home, Aug. 21, and were missing all night are happily readjusting to normal life after the scary ordeal.

Sisters Charlotte Thomas, 10, and Clarissa Thomas, 9, are excited to go back to school as the new school year starts next Tuesday, Sept. 5. The girls, and their 7-year-old little brother, Richard “Rusty” Thomas IV all attend Shelby Public Schools, said their mother Santana Rennhack.

Law enforcement from several area agencies spent hours searching for the girls in the area of their grandparents’ home on 72nd Avenue. The girls, their brother and mom live across the road from their grandparents, Joann and Dave Rennhack. Clarissa and Charlotte were found separately on their grandparents’ farm property, which encompasses 200 acres.

Clarissa returned home on her own, but Charlotte was found a few hours later by Michigan State Police Trooper Christopher Carnes and his trusty K-9 partner Bo. Carnes, who is assigned to the Rockford post, carried the young girl back home after finding her in a densely-wooded area.

Clarissa returned at 11 a.m., and Charlotte was found at 2 p.m. Their mom said although it was a wonderful sight to see Clarissa walking hand-in-hand with her Grandpa toward home, she was extremely worried about Charlotte out there on her own.

“There was a moment of relief when I saw Clarissa, but a huge amount of anxiety poured over me, as I thought, ‘Where is my other kid?’ It really struck a chord when I saw my dad with Clarissa.”

The recent runaway incident was not the girls’ first, Santana said. The pair ran off in the night a few weeks prior, and were missing for about one-and-a-half hours.

The question many local residents have been asking is why did they run away? Both Santana and Joann said it is because they terribly miss their father, Richard “Ricky” Thomas III, who has been in North Dakota on assignment for the US National Guard. Ricky and Santana recently divorced, and it has been hard for all three kids, they said. The first time the girls ran away was right after their dad left the state, Santana said.

Ricky was deployed to combat in Iraq for a year when the girls were babies, but they don’t remember it. His recent assignment in North Dakota where he is taking classes has been much harder on them, Santana said. “It’s the longest they’ve ever been away from their dad.”

Luckily, their dad was slated to return to Michigan Thursday night, Aug. 31, so the kids will finally get to see him again.

The girls do things that most kids their age enjoy, such as playing with their toys, stuffed animals and family pets and spending time outside on the swing set. Although, their decision to run away is not typical for their young age.

The girls wrote letters to the police officers who helped find them, thanking them and telling them they will not run away again, Joann said.

Clarissa was stung by a bee during the ordeal, and she told her family that is what made her decide to return. “She told us, ‘God told me it was a bad idea and wanted me to come home,'” Joann said.

Santana said that she checked on the girls at midnight, and they appeared to be sleeping. However, they sneaked out of the house at 1 a.m.

The girls brought blankets and their favorite stuffed animals when they left. They ate blackberries that they found in the woods, Santana said.

When they returned, their clothes were extremely muddy and dirty, and their legs were covered with scratches from briars. The girls were wearing “skorts,” so their legs were not protected.

The kids have been lectured by police and their family how dangerous their behavior was, warning them that they could have been abducted and disappeared forever.

Just to be extra safe, Santana has equipped her home with an alarm system and motion sensors in case the girls get the idea to run off again.

Santana, who was adopted by the Rennhacks as a child, said she ran away when she was 9 years old in the winter time. It was an attempt to reunite with her biological parents, Joann said.

Santana has battled many demons in her life due to the “horrendous childhood” she had before Dave and Joann adopted her and her two siblings. Years of therapy and medications helped her, but just a year ago she took a giant step toward recovery. She underwent inpatient treatment at a facility in Illinois for two months, which made a big difference in her mental wellbeing. She suffers from multiple personality disorder, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

“Santana realized she needed to really turn her life entirely over to God and that she was ready to get the help she needed,” her mom said.

Joann said she was extremely impressed with how well her daughter handled the trauma of the girls running away. “She didn’t fall apart. She used all those skills that she learned.”

“She turned her life totally over to God instead of trying to do it on her own. It’s been a life-changing transformation. She uses those skills and improves upon them.”

Going through the stress of the kids running away was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Santana said.

Charlotte is the “more determined” of the two girls, her mom said. She hid from the police and even took a three-hour nap while on the loose. After Clarissa decided to return home, she turned around to look for Charlotte but she couldn’t find her, Santana said.

Several friends and family assisted in the search, Santana said, including Ricky’s family. Her friends James Olejarczyk, who has worked in search and rescue, and Brandon Holland also helped.

The family was extremely impressed with the professionalism and compassion of the law enforcement personnel, including Oceana County sheriff deputies Jeff Brown and Lance Veldecamp, Detective Mark Schneider, Undersheriff Ryan Schiller, and Sheriff Craig Mast among many. “The state troopers and the sheriff’s office were so professional, so swift,” Joann said. “They knew just what to do and how to do it.”

“The entire Oceana County Sheriff’s Office was instrumental in the search — those in the office were helping/supporting and those on the ground,” said Joann. The Mason County Search and Rescue Team also assisted.

“The MSP Hart troopers who were on the ground this time were troopers Thenikal and Skorka. Also, Ricky’s family who came out to help with the search were Rick and Kathy Thomas, Ricky’s parents, the other grandparents of the girls, and Brandi Thomas (Ricky’s sister-n-law).”

“And those who prayed were certainly of great importance, as well. God was keeping our granddaughters safe, even though their childish, foolish actions put them in harm’s way.”

This story is copyrighted © 2017, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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