BERKELEY -- When a 61-year-old man with dementia wandered away from his Berkeley hills home last week, police launched an all-out search with 12 officers, police dogs and even a helicopter.
After six hours of searching with no luck, it was getting near dark and the danger was growing.
Enter 10-year-old Brandon Coleman and his mom, Niema.
"We had all these officers out in the field, a helicopter in the air, dogs trying to follow his scent, but in the end, all it took was one Brandon Coleman," Berkeley Police Officer Stephen Burcham told Coleman's fifth-grade class at John Muir Elementary School on Wednesday as police honored him with a certificate of appreciation.
Coleman and his mom were just leaving Brandon's drumming class in Oakland on Jan. 14 when Monte Winterhalter came walking down the street, at least 2 miles from his home. At about the same time, Niema Coleman opened her cellphone and found a Berkeley police email bulletin with a photo of Winterhalter attached. Winterhalter had moved to Berkeley with his wife just three days before.
Niema Coleman looked at the picture on her phone, looked up, and there was the man police were looking for.
It couldn't be. Or could it?
"I doubted myself, so my son came over, and he has eagle eyes, and I showed it to him and he said, 'Mom, that's him.'"
So mom approached the man and asked if he was Winterhalter. The man said no.
"He looked very put together, not a hair out of place," said Coleman. "So I asked Brandon again and he said 'Mom that's him! Call the police.' I am so proud of him. I was doubting myself, thinking, 'This can't be real.' It was just incredible."
Burcham said Winterhalter was found in the area of Broadway and Monroe streets in Oakland.
"Here's a little 10-year-old kid who knew what to do, to call the police," Burcham said. "He and his mom did a great job."
Like any 10-year-old put on the spot in front of his fifth-grade class, Brandon was not particularly effusive. But he was all smiles.
"I just wanted to help him out," Brandon said afterward. "I was thinking, let's go get him and get him back to his family. It was pretty cool, awesome I guess."
Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.