GILMAN, Ill. (WCIA) — Many stepped up when a sexual assault suspect was on the run. Now, he’s in custody. 

Iroquois County Sheriff Clint Perzee said an Illinois State Trooper found Joel Smith around 11 p.m. on Thursday night. He said Smith was walking near the Route 24 and 45 intersection. It’s not far from the cornfield officials searched all day, or from the Amtrak station where it all started. 

The Iroquois County Sherrif’s department was called to the Gilman train station at 11 a.m. on Wednesday for a report of a sexual assault. Smith is accused of assaulting a girl on the train that day, the same day he was released from federal prison in Southern Illinois.

On Thursday, an employee at the K&H Truck Plaza immediately called 911 after Smith approached her to buy an energy drink. Then, many officers searched the cornfield behind K&H. 

Perzee said 70 officers from 20 different agencies helped in the search.

Now that Smith is in custody, some people are breathing a sigh of relief. 

“I don’t have to sleep with five kids by me tonight, so it’s gonna be nice,” said Melanie Tindle, a mom of five.

Tindle lives 10 minutes outside of Gilman and said she doesn’t have to walk her daughter back inside the house at night. She said she’s felt nervous with her kids knowing Smith was on the run the last few days. 

“You can’t just let them go out to the chicken coop, what if someone’s in the barn?” Tindle said. “Going to the mailbox or taking the garbage down, I looked for cars coming down the road. I couldn’t let the kids play outside, you don’t know if someone’s going to come out of the cornfield.”

During the search on Thursday, police used farming equipment, standing on tractors and sprayers as they drove through the cornfield. Perzee said this was their first time using equipment in this kind of a search.

They also used K9s and drones. A Homeland Security helicopter circled the field for hours, using thermal technology and night vision after sunset. 

The entire manhunt was a community effort. Mike Wilson, the Vice President of Member Relations at the Eastern Illini Electric Co-op, said three employees and two bucket trucks helped out. 

“We want to step up,” Wilson said. “Our employees live right there in the area, they’re concerned about the area and so they wanted to do everything they could to help out.”

Tindle is thankful for all the volunteers and the officers. 

“My one daughter, she goes to school, she has special needs and she can’t talk so when I knew he was in custody and that school was optional, I decided oh yay, she gets to go to school,” Tindle said. 

Smith is charged with criminal sexual assault and is being held on $2 million bond. 

He was released from federal prison in Marion on Wednesday. He was serving time for failing to register as a sex offender and other probation violations in 2019. At the time, he was on supervised release following a nearly six-year sentence. 

In that case, Smith was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend and fracturing one of her ribs in 2013. The sentence included a conviction for sex abuse of a 13-year-old in 2007, he was 19. 

It was his third federal felony conviction in Michigan, also including assault with a dangerous weapon in 2009.