An online petition calling for the removal of a volunteer fire chief who is a convicted sex offender is gaining traction after the search for a missing child sparked debate in Barbour County.
Texasville Volunteer Fire Chief Robert Joel Drawdy is a registered sex offender. According to records, Drawdy was convicted in Florida in 1998 of two counts of attempted sexual battery of a victim 12 or older, with the offender coercing the victim by threat of force or violence.
The online petition at Change.org questions whether he should be in charge of a volunteer fire department.
"This man runs into fires to save people, I get that, but he is also a known pedophile," the petition states. "Should he be allowed to be a firefighter chief? Should he be able to have functions at his address with children parties with children? Should this be OK?"
Autumn Seaborn started the petition. She told 1819 News she takes the situation seriously because she is a victim.
"He should've never been put in that position in the first place because of his background," Seaborn said. "We want him to resign and not to be able to be a part of any authority. We teach our children to trust certain people, including police officers, firefighters and doctors, and we shouldn't have to worry if any of them are actually RSOs (registered sex offenders)."
Seaborn became aware of the situation after joining the search for a missing child in Clayton on January 12. The child's mother reported him missing from a camper. She told investigators she briefly left him asleep in the camper while she went to the restroom at a place nearby.
Alabama Search and Rescue (ALSAR) said after arriving at the scene with its incident command truck and NASAR-certified tracking bloodhound teams, searchers were asked by Drawdy. They said he told them to leave the area because ALSAR is not affiliated with AARS and "per the request of the Childersburg Rescue Squad."
"Our organization has chosen to operate independently of AARS to freely accept donations and recruit volunteers statewide, ensuring a more extensive reach and effectiveness in critical search and rescue missions across Alabama," ALSAR said in a press release. "We are not required to be a member of the AARS."
Seaborn said she was on the scene when the search was called off. She was also there when the child was located a few days later, on January 14.
The child was taken to the hospital for evaluation, but the conversation surrounding why anyone searching for a child would be turned away continued in the small community.
ALSAR then publicly distanced itself from the Texasville Volunteer Fire Department, posting on Facebook, "This individual, Joel Drawdy, has never been associated with ALSAR; this is, or was, the Chief of Barbour Co SAR / Texasville Vol Fire Dept. No affiliation to us whatsoever; every volunteer at ALSAR is background checked before joining. We can not answer to why the Alabama Association of Rescue Squads (AARS) allowed him to be a member; that should be taken up with them."
The AARS has not returned a phone call from 1819 News.
Someone with the Texasville Volunteer Fire Department told 1819 News they did not want to be identified but said the department was one of many on the scene searching for the child and that the chief was not the decision-maker that night. They also said everything was done professionally to bring the child home.
The mother of the child, who desperately posted online for help during the days of the search, said she was thankful that her son, who has autism, was brought home safely. She believes it was a freak accident and that he accidentally got out of the camper and wandered off, unable to find his way back home.
The Organization for Autism Research reports that wandering off or "elopement" is not uncommon in children with autism. Those with cognitive challenges have higher instances of wandering off than their peers.
While many celebrate the child's safe return, some concerned community members want the volunteer fire chief in nearby Texasville to leave his post. Seaborn said she attended a firefighter association meeting but was not allowed to speak because it was an officer election meeting, not a regular meeting.
WHY ARE WE NOT ALLOWED TO SPEAK?! REMOVE ROBERT JOEL DRAWDY♬ original sound - Serenity Finch
"This is personal," Seaborn told 1819 News. "Personally, something has to be done because it has become a pandemic in our society now that people like this are allowed to have these sorts of roles. That is unacceptable."
The Barbour County Sheriff's Office has not responded to a media inquiry concerning the matter.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency's (ALEA) State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) took over the case. No charges have been filed.
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