Local search and rescue group working to help locate missing North Carolina man

Untitled design (5).png
Posted at 1:30 PM, Nov 28, 2021

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – A local search and rescue group is working to help locate a missing North Carolina man.

News 3 continues to look into local missing persons cases through a series called — "Have You Seen Me?"

Last seen in shorts and no shoes, 28-year-old Vance County, North Carolina man Joel Lopez Hernandez went missing on October 30th.

Juan Lopez, Joel's brother, said his brother was last seen on I-85 headed northbound but could possibly be headed to Virginia Beach, a place he loves.

“We have family in Virginia and we used to go to Virginia Beach a lot,” Juan said. “He knows Virginia Beach.”

North Carolina Public Safety officials issued a Silver Alert for Joel, saying he is believed to be suffering from dementia or some other cognitive impairment.

The W.A.T.E.R. Team Inc., a nonprofit based in Newport News, helps to find missing people on land and in the water. The group of veterans say they are planning to help search for Joel.

Right now, the team is formulating a plan and is expected to arrive in the area where Joel was last seen in the next few days.

Joe Slabinski is the president and founder of the W.A.T.E.R. Team.

“We are just people that couldn't serve anymore in a military uniform, but still wanted to serve the country, and this is how we do it,” Slabinski said.

The group was instrumental in discovering the body of 40-year Stephen Cleaton a few weeks ago. News 3 met up with Cleaton’s family, who said he suffered a schizophrenic episode and ran out of a car in late August.

The search team helped find his remains in early November not far from where he disappeared.

“We were able to give the family closure. It didn't end the way we wanted it to. We were unable to bring him back alive, but we brought him back regardless,” Slabinski said.

Now, the team hopes to help find Joel.

To view Joel's Silver Alert, click here.