Sheriff's office ends search, man still missing

Posted at 9:30 PM, Jan 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-03 16:12:36-05

MORROW, Ohio -- Deputies ended the Little Miami River search for a man they said was near the scene of a house fire in Morrow, Ohio, but fled the scene when questioned by officials.

Deputies said Aaron Berns was seen walking around the three-unit home where his brother lives on Miranda Street that caught fire on Friday night. Officials began questioning Berns but said he became "evasive" and eventually fled the scene. They said he was last seen jumping into the nearby Little Miami River, but the current carried him out of sight quickly.

The 27-year-old's family said Berns, a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"He's having a hard time and he needs help, and he might be out there alone," his brother, Jeremy Berns, said. "We just want to find him."

The Warren County Sheriff's Office organized a search  with other local first responders Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, but called off search and rescue operations at 1:45 p.m. Sunday after Berns couldn't be found.

Berns was still considered a "critical missing person," deputies said. They asked anyone with information about his whereabouts to contact the Warren County Sheriff's Office.

Berns' mother, Missy Hubbard, said her son was taken by law enforcement officers to a hospital earlier this week for a wellness evaluation after he set a mattress on fire outside. Hubbard said her son was recommended for a 72-hour hold at the hospital, but he returned home about 90 minutes later.

"I truly believe, if my son was properly diagnosed and treated, there would be no fire and they would not be sending divers in the water again this morning," Hubbard said.

Crews were called nearby to the river to search for Berns. The Warren County Sheriff's Office and several search-and-rescue crews, including a helicopter, looked downstream.

The search included the surrounding banks and woods, but didn't turn up Berns after hours of looking.

Deputies ask anyone with information about Berns or his whereabouts to call authorities; Warren County Sheriff's Office at 513-695-1280, Morrow police at 513-899-2211, or Hamilton Township police at 513-683-0538.

Search crews returned in the morning and are still looking for Berns, who they consider a "critical missing person" and a person of interest in the fire. Berns' family said they believed he was responsible for the fire. His brother, Jeremy Berns, said he had left Aaron alone there for about an hour.

"It had to have been him," Jeremy Berns said. "It couldn't have been anyone else."

The three-unit home fire appears to have started upstairs, though the cause is not yet clear, officials said.

Salem/Morrow Fire Chief William Harrison said no one was home Friday night when the fire started on Miranda Street. Harrison would not say if the fire was considered suspicious.

The Salem/Morrow Fire Department, Hamilton Township Fire Rescue, Harlan Township Fire and Rescue, Turtlecreek Township Fire Department and Union Township Fire Department all responded. It took about 40 minutes to put out the fire, Harrison said.

At least two of the units, at 203 and 205 Miranda, appeared to be damaged.

The officials search was scheduled to continue Sunday. Hubbard said the family would continue searching through the night.

Berns is very religious and may try seeking sanctuary at a church, Hubbard said.

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the owner of the building. Warren County property records name Bryant York as the property owner.