Warmer weather raised rescuers’ hopes Monday as they searched for a third day for a 12-year-old Boy Scout who disappeared while camping with his troop in the rugged mountains of western North Carolina.
Michael Auberry vanished in the heavily wooded terrain after lunch Saturday with the other Scouts and troop leaders. Searchers found his mess kit late Saturday within a mile of the camp site, but no other sign of him, authorities said.
“We’re still confident in calling it a search-and-rescue operation,” National Park Service spokeswoman Tina White said.
The boy’s father, Kent Auberry, told the News & Record of Greensboro: “Any sign that he’s still out there, that he’s still fighting, we’re clinging to.”
Temperatures fell to the 20s before dawn Monday, but sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s prevailed during the day. Overnight weather was expected to be milder, with lows in the 40s, but there was a chance of rain Tuesday.
“The temperatures definitely play a factor. It has been very cold at night, but this young man was very well dressed. He had a fleece jacket on and another jacket,” White said. “We’ve had people who have been out a week or longer and survived.”
About 70 people aided by dogs and a helicopter searched the area’s logging roads and trails and scoured off-road regions.
During the night, searchers planned to fly a plane with heat-sensing equipment and have dog teams out, among other efforts, she said. Searchers planned to stick to the trails at night to avoid losing anyone else.
The FBI was among the agencies on the scene, “but we still do not have any indication of foul play or that this young man has been abducted,” White said.
The boy’s mother, Debbie Hayes, told the Winston-Salem Journal that Michael had only potato chips to eat and no water. She also said he takes Ritalin to control attention-deficit disorder.
Park rangers worked with the boy’s family to learn about Michael’s wilderness skills and how he might react to the situation, White said.
Wild animals probably wouldn’t threaten the boy, rangers said.
“Most likely, he won’t see anymore wildlife than turkeys or groundhogs or squirrels,” White said. “Our main concern would be if the weather changed and we got rain.”
A missing persons alert notifying area law enforcement had also been issued as a precaution in case the boy had left the area being searched, White said, noting it was possible the boy could make it to a nearby road.
Few hikers are on the trails this time of year, she said.
The boy had stayed behind with an adult leader Saturday morning while the rest of the troop went for a hike “because apparently he wanted to sleep in,” said David Bauer, a ranger with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Michael was there when the troop returned for lunch, but the group of about 10 Scouts and their three adult leaders soon noticed he was missing, Bauer said.
Authorities said the boy probably wandered into the woods to explore.
Rock crevasses could provide shelter
“We’re hopeful he was able to find shelter. There are a number of rock crevasses, and he could have covered himself up with leaves,” said Mike Lambert, a ranger with North Carolina State Parks.
Michael, a Scout for about a year, likes camping but doesn’t like the cold, his father, Kent Auberry of Greensboro, told the Winston-Salem Journal.
Bauer said he was not aware of Michael having any arguments or problems with the troop members or his family.
John Meeks, Scout executive of the Greensboro-based Old North State Council, said the troops’ leaders were highly qualified.
Leaders of other troops drove to the site Monday and offered to help, but authorities asked them to wait because they’re not trained in search and rescue.
A prayer service was held Sunday night at the family’s church in Greensboro, said congregation member David Millsaps.
“They’re the kind of folks you always see in the halls at church, helping with the kids and youth worship. They are people who care,” Millsaps said.