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Rockford family urging public to be on lookout for missing man – Shaw Local

DIXON – The family of a missing Rockford man police believe fell into the Rock River five months ago are asking Sauk Valley residents to be on the lookout this summer in and around the river for any signs of him.

Carter Mcgowan, who was 22 at the time, was declared a missing person on Jan. 22, Rockford police records show. During the initial search, police found a jacket belonging to Mcgowan and footprints in the snow near the Rock River on the 15th Avenue bridge in Rockford. The discovery led officers to believe he had fallen into the river. The search was turned over to the Rockford Fire Department and the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office.

Arlen Harms of Rochelle, Mcgowan's grandfather, and other family members have been contacting local park districts and boat launches to put up signs so those who are on the river this summer can be on the lookout. Officials have said the river's current may have carried his body a great distance downstream; safety officials the family spoke to have said it's going to be a boater or a fisherman who finds his body, Harms told Shaw Local News Network.

“We ask that boaters and fisherman keep a close eye on the river, shoreline and island areas. If you find what appears to be a body, please call 911 with your location. Do not put yourself at risk,” the sign reads.

On the day Mcgowan went missing, his mother had escorted him to a doctor's appointment at the UW Health Clinic on Marchesano Drive in Rockford, Harms said. He said Mcgowan, who is autistic, was nervous going into the appointment and abruptly left in the middle of it. His mother, thinking he had gone to the bathroom, started to get worried when he didn't return. She was looking around the office when an employee at the front desk told her that he had “dashed out the front door.”

Panicked, Mcgowan's mother called friends and other family members who began searching the area, Harms said. With no sign from Carter, his mother called the police to report him missing.

Carter graduated from Rockford East High School in 2019 and earned his associate of science degree from Rock Valley College in 2022. His family describes him as a lover of books, walks and nature.

After initial searches were unsuccessful, several other departments were brought in to help over the next couple of months. The Rockford Fire Department used its dive team, and the Blackhawk Fire Department conducted several searches. Harms said that the Ogle County Sheriff's Office also was a big help to them.

Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle recommended the family to Christian Aid Ministries' search and rescue team in Tampico. The volunteer group conducted searches using “lots of high-tech equipment,” including sonar, GPS tracking and mapping software, Harms said.

In the spring, VanVickle coordinated searches with the Byron, Oregon, Rochelle, Dixon Rural and Dixon City fire departments. The departments were assigned sections of the river and each spent a full day searching each of their sections, Dixon Rural Assistant Fire Chief Derrick Storey said in an interview with SLNN.

Harms said they still are conducting occasional searches. The case remains open as a missing adult case, according to Rockford Police Department records.

The family, who described the death as a suicide, held funeral services for Mcgowan in early March, Harms said.

“Carter never spoke an unkind word about anyone,” Harms said. “He was a great kid, so gentle, caring and thoughtful.”

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