About 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7, a miracle happened in the Valley.
At about 11:30 Monday, May 4, three-year-old Joshua Childers slipped unnoticed out of his home while his mother was on the phone and his father, who works night shifts, was sleeping.
Anyone who has children, or has even been around children for any amount of time knows just how fast they can be.
So, Joshua slipped out, and after what couldn’t have been more than a minute or two later, his mother noticed he was missing. She woke up her husband and they looked for him for almost 45 minutes before calling the police.
A massive crew of people responded, including professional search and rescue workers, dog teams and numerous volunteers. They gridded off the area and sent searchers out to try to find him.
By nightfall, people began getting extremely worried. How could a three-year-old survive in this rough wilderness? There are all kinds of wild animals in these woods, including snakes and coyotes, to name a couple. The area around Josh’s home was heavily wooded and there were several ponds and creeks in the area that were swollen past their banks after all of the rain we have received in the area lately.
After continuing the search through the night with no signs of the little guy, the effort continued the next morning. Divers came. More professional searchers and dog teams came. Volunteers came in droves, from all over the state and surrounding area.
After several hours, one of Joshua’s shoes were found nearby a creek along with a single footprint. At the creek, which would have been at least waist deep to the three-year-old, search dogs were reported to have whined…
Things were looking worse by the minute. What if Josh fell in the creek attempting to cross it? He would have been swept away.
As nightfall neared, everyone following the story became even more worried. How could he survive another 40 degree night alone in the woods? There was also more rain forecasted, making matters worse.
By Wednesday morning, no one had given up hope, but people all over the Valley and across the nation prayed harder than ever for his safe return.
After he had been missing for 48 hours, I couldn’t stay focused on anything. I kept thinking, “How would my Hayden do it? Would he (Josh) be all right?”
The entire staff of The Mountain Echo, along with a good portion of the state and even many neighboring states, huddled around the radio, hoping to hear that he had been found.
Because it was a slow day and I couldn’t concentrate anyway, I asked my boss if I could take off after lunch and join the group of volunteers in searching for the boy. My co-worker, Ashley, had also caught up on her work and decided to join me.
At almost 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon, we arrived at Blue Mountain Methodist Camp, the staging area for search workers. We signed up on the list of volunteers and prepared ourselves to wait for as long as it took before we were called out.
In the meantime, I searched the patch of grass and clovers we were sitting by for that universal good-luck charm, the four-leafed clover. After about 10 minutes I found one! “Is this a great sign, or what,” I asked Ashley.
“My mom says you only find one when you need it most,” she replied.
“Well,” I said, “I’ll keep looking because we need all the luck we can get.”
Sure enough, within five minutes, I had found another, then another, then another. Within 20 minutes, by 4:00, I had found 9 four-leaf clovers, and was handing them out to the volunteers around me, trying to spread the luck around.
Soon, a rumble spread through the staging area . . . they had found Josh and he was alive!! It seemed almost too good to be true, so volunteers huddled around anyone they could find with a CB Radio, waiting, just waiting for the marvelous news to be confirmed.
Ashley’s mom called her and said a local radio station said that he had been found, alive and well. But still we didn’t want to get our hopes up without official confirmation.
Finally just after 4:30 it came through, the news everyone had been waiting for. . .
Joshua was found alive, unhurt and very hungry.
The tyke was over three miles away from his house when volunteer worker Donnie Halpin saw a couple of dogs gathered around something. When he went to see what it was, he saw Joshua’s naked butt, and said, “Hey, buddy.”
Josh sat right up and looked at him. Donnie said, “Do you wanna go home?” and Josh said “Yes.”
Donnie wrapped him up in his shirt and carried him out of the woods, hollering that he had found him. He called his son to call 911, and took him to the nearest house to get him cleaned up.
The woman at that home asked him if he was hungry, and what he wanted. He simply said, “Milk.”
When asked where he had been for so long, little Joshua replied, “On a hike.” He was planning on heading to his grandma’s house and amazingly, was found only 1/4 mile from there.
Eventually, Joshua said he had crossed the creek (presumably where his shoe had been found). He was upset that he had lost a shoe and wanted only hot dogs and milk.
Even more amazingly, Donnie wouldn’t have been part of the search party if it hadn’t been for the rain that so dampened everyone’s spirits. He was rained out of his construction job and decided to join the effort. He was actually separated from his group of about 20 other searchers, and was wandering around trying to find them when he practically stumbled across the boy.
Currently, Josh is in fair condition at a local hospital, with plans to be released tonight or in the morning. He is expected to be in his own bed by no later than tomorrow night.
I will never forget the sense of pure elation when I heard the news. Ashley and I hugged and cried and cheered. It was absolutely awesome. It is true that the Lord works in mysterious ways, none more mysterious that this.
Following is the only picture taken of Joshua being removed from the ambulance and taken into the hospital. It was taken by the editor of The Mountain Echo, Kevin Jenkins.