Years from now, 8-year-old Evan Thompson will have quite a story to tell.
On his first camping trip over the weekend, he vanished for more than three days. Lost, he wandered without food and water. He poked at ant hills, slept beneath trees and hid in caves while nearly 100 rescuers searched for him.
“Evan, my little man,” his aunt and legal guardian, Teddi Gray, recalled saying to Evan as tears streamed down her face during their reunion on Tuesday.
“Aunt Teddi, what’s wrong?” she recalled Evan saying.
“He’s in great spirits,” she said. “He didn’t know what all the fuss was about.”
Doctors have declared him in good condition.
Evan went missing while he, family friends and a teacher were spending Memorial Day weekend at a campsite. Gray said, “He knew he was lost.”
Nearly 100 rescuers, dog teams and three aircraft, including helicopters with heat-seeking capability, combed the rugged terrain creased by steep cliffs and narrow ravines.
'He hid in a cave'
Rescuers focused their search on a 15-square-mile area about 90 miles southwest of Denver, following the distinct tracks left by Evan’s Spiderman shoes and the ant hills he was poking at along the way, Gray said.
Helicopters scared the boy, who has attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, into hiding. She said, “He was afraid of that noise and he hid in a cave, that’s why they couldn’t find him with that.”
Rescuers and his family remained optimistic that Evan could survive in the gray sweat shirt and sweat pants he was wearing when he disappeared because of the mild weather. They cited the case of an 11-year-old boy who was found alive last fall in Utah after going four days without food or water in rugged wilderness.
Gray and other family members were riding in search vehicles and calling for Evan over loudspeakers in case he was hiding from the rescue teams.
“Younger children, they may think they’re in trouble, so they might hide,” Zak Slutzky of Western State Mountain Rescue said. “A lot of kids are told not to approach strangers.”
Rescuers caught a break when rescuers with a dog team in an area known as Hole in the Wall Gulch called out Evan’s name and heard the response, “Hey, who’s that,” apparently coming from Evan, Gray said.
Gray’s husband, Arthur, was flown to the area to add a familiar voice to the search, and that’s when Evan wandered out to a road where rescuers on ATVs found him, Gray said.
He was found about five miles away from the campsite. It took rescuers on ATVs 1½ hours to ferry Evan out to a staging area. Afterward, Evan ate bananas and pizza.
Evan then told his aunt he wants to go camping again.