CARTHAGE, Mo. — Hundreds of volunteers turned out late Tuesday night to search for a 12-year-old boy who went missing.

The child was found safe and unharmed around 10:30 p.m., after spending about six hours in the woods near his home on the eastern edge of Carthage, police Chief Greg Dagnan said.

He said police were told the boy is autistic and would hide from adults searching for him, which turned out to be the case.

“We knew he had some behavior issues and was upset and was likely to hide from adults,” Dagnan said. “So it’s a typical thing that happens in police work, it happens all the time, but we usually find the kid fairly shortly. It got to be around 6:30 to 7 p.m. ... It was getting dark, so we put out a notice on social media asking residents to keep an eye out for this kid. Suddenly people just started showing up.”

Dagnan said at first volunteers began driving the streets around the area where the boy was reported missing, then they came to officers and offered to help with the search. Officers began organizing search teams and assigning them to specific locations.

“Evangel Assembly of God Church was wonderful. They opened the church for us,” Dagnan said. “So we put out the Facebook call, 'Hey, if you’re going to show up, go to the church and we’ll divide you into teams and we’ll make sure that you’re being productive, not searching where we’ve already searched,' that kind of thing.

“Our guys who were running the show there said they estimated 300 to 400 volunteers. That doesn’t count the hundreds of people who just showed up or were driving the streets. They had 50 teams out, anywhere between five to 10 people in a team, and they would search an area, then come back.”

Joint effort

The Jasper County Sheriff’s Office was among the agencies that helped, in part because the boy’s home is on the edge of Carthage city limits and much of the area searched was in the county.

“Being as we had a missing 12-year-old autistic child, this would have been a priority for us, whether it was on the edge of the city or not,” said Sgt. Tim Williams, of the sheriff's office.

Williams said deputies used a drone equipped with a heat-sensitive camera but had to stop when the winds picked up to around 40 miles per hour that night. Williams said the wind also hampered search dogs.

“It’s hard to do a track at night and in the wind,” he said. “It was such a large area and such a thickly wooded area, it made the search difficult.”

Dagnan said the Carthage Fire Department brought people and lights, as did Carthage Water & Electric, and other city employees joined the search.

In the spotlight

Dagnan said officers learned that the boy could be attracted to light. When that information went out on various media, Johnathan Waddell and other volunteers with The Myers Inn Haunted Hotel, located at Airport Drive and Hazel Avenue in Carthage, brought out a huge spotlight to see if they could help.

Dagnan said volunteers set up their spotlight and that around 10:30 p.m., one of the volunteers saw the missing child near the light.

“I don’t want to try to guess what he would or would not have done had (the spotlight) not been there, but clearly it was a part of us finding him in a timely manner, so those guys are very much appreciated,” Dagnan said. “It was incredibly generous of those guys to come out and volunteer their time and at the end of the day, when the child decided to reveal himself, he went straight to that light.”

Dagnan said medical personnel checked the boy and found he was unharmed.

“I was looking at my watch and thinking, it’s 42 degrees now, very windy, very dark, he’s been in the woods since 4:30. Frankly, I was getting quite concerned about how cold it was going to get,” Dagnan said. “The fact that we were now searching places for the fourth or fifth time was a concern, so when he came out, whether he was interested in the light or whatever, I was very, very pleased. Then it was even better when Mercy (Hospital Carthage) said, 'He’s OK. He’s cold, but fine.' That was quite a relief as well.”

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