Karla Hillen: One year later

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 11:22 PM EST
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BRYAN COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - As Chatham County Police wrap up the most extensive search in their department’s history, this week marks a year since a different search in Bryan County.

Karla Hillen went missing a year ago.

Her body was found two weeks later in Fort McAllister State Park.

It was a massive search involving police and the community.

Some people in Bryan County questioned whether the search for Karla was handled properly and if sheriff’s deputies followed protocol.

The autopsy report revealed her body was found 70 yards away from where her car was sitting for weeks.

So, were there any areas overlooked...or had they just not gotten to where she was found yet?

“You always start big and work you way small so it’s a contained and controlled environment,” said Bryan County Deputy Jennifer Fleming.

That was an area they hadn’t searched yet.

But Fleming said questions about who had legal authority in this search complicated some of what the sheriff’s office could do.

“If that had been done sooner, the resources would’ve been there faster...but would that have affected the outcome? No.”

She said jurisdictional issues slowed them down.

“Drastically.”

The park falls under the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement division.

It took days for them to hand it over to the sheriff’s office.

When they did have the authority, Fleming said they got as many resources in as they could.

Fleming said: “We started getting K9s involved. We started getting coast guard involved...helicopters...everything that we could.”

Deputy Fleming said the search for Karla has changed how they plan to communicate and work with other agencies in the future.

She said there have been no other searches as extensive as Hillen’s in county history.

“Not to that magnitude.”

The search never turned into a criminal investigation.

“When this started people who leave have every legal right to leave so sometimes when people are reported missing we have to treat it as such and make sure the investigation is thorough.”

With the investigation into Quinton Simon’s death and disappearance happening now, Deputy Fleming said there are parallels.

“The problem with knowing everything is it allows for a rabbit hole to open.”

She said both cases were devastating to their communities.

“Us losing Karla Hillen. it’s incredibly tragic to lose someone in the community. Just as Savannah lost Quinton Simon who is two. Age difference aside...you lost somebody and that’s somebody’s somebody.”

The coroner did report the cause of death for Hillen as undetermined because of the condition she was in after she was found.

The family could not be reached for comment.