Details of Disappearance
Serenity was a resident of the Black Hills Children's Home (BHCH), a treatment center for children with emotional and behavioral problems, in the 24100 block of Rockerville Road outside of Rapid City, South Dakota at the time of her disappearance. She was playing in the gym at the home with three other children at 10:45 a.m. on February 3, 2019.
Two staff members were tasked with watching the children. One child ran out of the gym, but stayed inside the building, and one of the staff members went after that child. While the remaining staffer was watching the other children alone, Serenity ran out of the gym. The remaining staff member didn't follow her but stayed in the gym and called for help, since there were still two children in the gym and it was against the rules to leave them unsupervised.
A person coming onto the BHCH campus at 11:00 a.m. was the last person known to have seen Serenity. She was walking northbound on south Rockerville Road, near the cattle guard in front of the home. She was not wearing a coat in spite of the sub-zero temperatures. She has never been heard from again.
Before she went to live in the Black Hills Children's Home, Serenity lived with her adoptive father, Chad Dennard, and stepmother, KaSandra Dennard. They have primary custody of Serenity, and her adoptive mother, Darcie Gentry, has secondary custody. Serenity had stayed in about a dozen foster homes in her early childhood, for two years after she was removed from her biological parents' care as a toddler. Both of her birth parents are now in prison.
In October 2014, after fostering her for several months, Chad and Darcie adopted her. In early 2015, the couple divorced. Chad and KaSandra began raising her in May of that year. They live in Sturgis, South Dakota with Serenity's three siblings. Darcie has remarried and lives in Rapid Valley, South Dakota.
According to her parents, Serenity suffered trauma as a result of her early childhood experiences. As a result, she would frequently run away from home and had other behavioral issues. Years of outpatient therapy failed to help, and Chad and KaSandra felt it was no longer safe for her to remain at home. In July 2018, they sent her to live at the BHCH, which provides intensive inpatient therapy and schooling for children aged four to fourteen.
She was expected to stay for about fourteen months, with a predicted discharge date of September 2019. Her parents saw her four or fives times a month, during visits and family therapy sessions, and she was allowed to call them twice a week. They believed she was making good progress, and described the BHCH staff as caring.
Chad visited Serenity at the home the day before she went missing; he said it was a normal visit and she seemed to be doing well. He said she had a history of hiding from the staff and threatening to run away, and had once run away while playing outside, but the staff was able to catch her.
The policy at the BHCH was that if a child went missing, the staff should notify emergency responders within "a reasonable time." After Serenity disappeared, the staff didn't call 911 until 12:26 p.m., by which time an hour and 41 minutes had passed. Instead, they searched the area for her themselves.
The facility faced extensive criticism for its handling of Serenity's disappearance. The state Department of Social Services and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services investigated and found that the BHCH didn't provide the level of supervision Serenity required, they lacked a sufficient emergency preparedness plan, the staff's initial search for Serenity was "disorganized", and the 101-minute delay in calling 911 did not constitute a "reasonable time."
The state gave the home a Corrective Action Plan, stating that a new policy should be adopted, where staff would call 911 immediately after a child disappeared. Later that year, the executive director of the Children's Home Society, which runs the BHCH and provides other education, shelter, adoption and foster care services in South Dakota, retired.
Numerous extensive searches of the area, involving police, volunteers and search dogs, have turned up no indication of Serenity's whereabouts. The search was reclassified from a rescue to a recovery effort after several days, as Serenity could not have survived for more than a few nights outside in the extremely cold temperatures.
Her case remains unsolved and she is feared to be dead.