'Needle in a haystack,' searchers find lost Prince George boy

Footprints led to lost boy

Footprints in the snow.

For searchers looking for a lost 12-year-old Prince George boy, those tracks he left behind made all the difference.

They found him safe and unharmed, two days after he went missing.

The search for Luke ended Friday evening along Highway 97 south of Hixon when the search and rescue team discovered him in a clump of bushes between the highway and another road.

“One of our crews found some tracks and so we started following the tracks and it kind of led us right to him,” said Dave Merritt , search manager for Prince George Search and Rescue. “We found prints in the bush and he’d just gone for a wander in the bush. He was in the trees when we found him about 400 metres from the highway.

Searchers were told Luke is developmentally delayed and might not comprehend conversations at his age level. Prior to his disappearance he told his siblings in his adoptive home that he was running away. Acting on the advice of the RCMP the search was concentrated on an area south of Hixon, 61 kilometres south of Prince George.

“We picked up the track Friday at 10 o’clock in the morning and then we were just trying to figure out where he was going and what he was doing after that and we eventually picked him up later in the evening.

“We’re pretty happy the way things ended the way they did there. At the end of the day it was a team effort and we had all of the northern B.C. SAR teams helping it with us. It just shows that the community comes together in a time of need.”

There was about two hours of daylight left Friday when the search ended. Merritt wasn’t with the crew that actually found Luke and saw him later with his adoptive mother and said he appeared fine aside from a couple of bruises after spending two nights in below freezing temperatures. The Salvation Army sent its food truck to feed the search crews, stocked by hot food prepared by the soup kitchen in Hixon, and they supplied a hearty snack for Luke once he was found.

“He was trying to get to the road so he could work his way back home,” said Merritt, a 30-year volunteer with PGSAR. “It sounded like he just got a little lost and turned around in the bush.

“It wasn’t super cold and that definitely helped as well.”

The search took place in a thickly-forested sparsely-populated area and it involved 42 Search and Rescue volunteers from Prince George, 100 Mile House, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Vanderhoof, Mackenzie, Fort St. James and Houston. Prince George RCMP, with help from the Quesnel detachment, had three members involved in the search, aided by a police dog team and the RCMP helicopter.

“Hats off to them and their families for something that is a vital part of living in the north,” said Prince George RCMP spokesperson Cst. Jennifer Cooper. “I’m a Lower Mainland transplant and there’s not terrain like this down there anymore. You could get lost here and literally no one would ever find you. It’s the dedication of these search and rescue volunteers and their passion that gets these people found. Otherwise, it’s a needle in a haystack.”

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