AVON PARK – The Florida Department of Corrections Office of the Inspector General has responded to inquires made on behalf of Margaret “Helen” Becker’s family. Becker went missing on Jan. 17 and was last seen as she went past a manned main gate on the Avon Park Air Force Range property later that evening.
Becker’s disappearance made national news. Volunteers formed search groups and social media pages were dedicated to finding her. The family continues to try to piece together what happened after Becker left a CVS store in Sebring that afternoon, but feels there will always be a few pieces of the puzzle missing.
The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado that Becker was driving when she went missing was found Feb. 1. It was found submerged almost 16 miles away and was about 30 feet from the boat ramp in water 15-30 feet deep in the Kissimmee River on the Bombing Range property. Highlands County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission searched the 106,000-acre area of the range, suspending their search on Feb. 10.
Fred Becker, Helen’s husband of 42 years, and her stepdaughter, Sheri (Becker) Unger, shared the response from the Department of Corrections Incident Report, dated Feb. 13, with the Highlands News-Sun. The identity of the officer is being withheld. The officer stated: “I, Officer, (withheld), on January 17th, 2020 at approximately 7:30 p.m. was working the main gate post when an elderly lady wearing a blue flannel shirt drove past main gate in a blue newer model Chevy truck without stopping to show identification. I attempted to stop her by yelling and flashing my flashlight at her. The elderly women (sic) still did not stop and drove towards the direction of Avon Park Public Recreation Building. This was my first time working this post and was not sure of what to do if any one (sic) did not stop.”
Under the “Shift Supervisor/Department Head” section, it was noted: ”Forwarded for further review and informational purposes. Duty Warden notified and MINS (Management Information System) completed.”
The handwritten review by the correctional officer chief stated: “On 1/17/20 Officer (withheld) was posted at the main gate for the first time, and was unaware that he was supposed to notify command if someone refused to stop and show ID as this was not in the post ordered. Forward for review.”
The warden wrote: “Officer (withheld) will be instructed on his job duties on the Entrance gate.” The warden also wrote that the officer and all staff would receive notification procedures at the entrance gate.
Unger and her father still do not find comfort in the information they have received.
“I am very disappointed. I now know what happened that night on Jan. 17, 2020 and it is heartbreaking,” Unger said. “No formal apology for the negligence has been given to the family from the DOC. No changes will be made to keep this from happening in the future to someone else.
“I spoke to Congressman Greg Steube’s office and they are doing nothing. The land by the river is owned by the federal government and the tiny sign indicating the road ends in the river is pitiful. No one would be able to see it at night. A gate needs to be in place to keep anyone from driving directly into the river. I spoke to State Senator (Ben) Albritton’s office and they are doing nothing. The DOC is managed by the state but no real disciplinary action is being taken on the CO (correctional officer) at the entrance gate who did not report Margaret Helen Becker driving through without stopping to show identification, or the shift supervisor who put the CO at the entrance gate without proper training, or the warden who does not have proper security measures in place for the DOC.”
Becker said he felt the State was at fault but said the State does not want to admit it. Because of the news coverage and subsequent Silver Alert, Unger was upset that the guard did not come forward until after Helen’s truck was found in the river by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.
“Somebody is at fault,” Becker said.
He said his biggest complaint was the guard not knowing to alert someone that his wife went through the gate and was not stopped at any time.
He grieves for his wife and hates living alone. Since his wife’s disappearance, Becker has been spending time with family in Ohio and some time in Sebring where the couple lived most of the year.
“In conclusion, I want to say that Margaret Helen Becker’s family is 100% angry, disappointed and grieving the outcome,” Unger wrote in an email. “The Avon Air Force base is not secure. The DOC is not secure. This scenario may happen again.”