Over 100 firefighters, police officers, U.S. Forest Service workers, and others searched for two missing boys in the wilds of Kentucky for 20 hours. Those conducting the search were concerned that the children would elude them before rain and cold descended on the area.
The kids, however, weren’t scared one bit. Now safe and sound, and back with their parents, they said their day hiking through the woods, sleeping under trees, and eating sticks was an adventure.
That adventure came to an end. The missing boys — Michael Esposito, 5, of Batavia, Ohio, and Adrian Ross, 7, of Bloomington, Indiana — were found Friday afternoon, much to the relief of their praying mothers, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
“We were so thrilled,” Julia Esposito told WKYT. “I prayed all night long and I kept praying find them before the rain comes because I knew they’d be OK last night because it didn’t get too cold and they were together.”
Michael has experience camping and being in the outdoors, so Julia didn’t get worried until they closed in on the 20th hour of his disappearance. They had been to the area, the Koomer campground at Red River Gorge in Kentucky, three times before.
It all started Thursday evening. The boys had come to the campground with three other cousins, father Dave Esposito, grandfather David Stricker, and uncle David Stricker Jr., for a family reunion. The boys went missing while the men were setting up the campsite. Adrian’s parents arrived shortly afterward, and Julia drove down when the boys weren’t found right away.
According to Adrian’s aunt, Linda Palacios, the boys were looking for a secret hiding spot.
“They like to hide; they really like to hide. I wish they didn’t so much in strange places.”
The area, in Kentucky’s Wolfe County, is described is “primitive,” with treacherous terrain — especially in the rain — and is teeming with thick woods and cliffs. But, these young Kentucky boys had an amazing time, to hear Michael tell it. They “slept under a giant tree,” which was their favorite part, and he even said the sticks he ate were pretty tasty. The missing boys said they traveled to the other side of a mountain, where they slept against a rock for the night.
Michael sported some scrapes on his legs, evidence of that daring adventure.
“Did you stay away from the cliff edge?” his mother asked.
“No, once we were right on it.”
“I don’t want to hear that!” his mother cried.
As fun as the journey was for the cousins, the people searching for them weren’t nearly as excited. John May of Wolfe County Search & Rescue said missing children raises panic in everyone.
“My heart sunk. We normally don’t have to search for children this age… when we heard 5 and 7 years old, obviously a panic button went off.”
Crews searched by air and on the ground in a grid search covering 1,000 acres. They had to stop late Thursday and early Friday once it became dark. The search was made more frantic by the threat of rain, which would’ve made it harder for the search dogs to sniff out the missing kids’ tracks.
Friday afternoon — 30 minutes before torrential rain struck the Kentucky wilderness — four members of the U.S. Forest Service heard Michael and Adrian yelling when they arrived at a fork in a creek.
They were hungry and cold, but otherwise still glowing with the excitement of their adventure in the woods. They were checked over by EMTs and found to be in perfect health, and given some Gatorade, beef jerky and Oreos.
For the searchers, the rescue was physically and emotionally exhausting and everyone is relieved the missing boys were found, said a Kentucky fire chief, Chris Ward.
“I think it probably touches everybody. I have two boys at home we were just up here three weeks ago hiking the Gorge with my Boy Scout troop so kinda familiar with the area. I think this touches everybody out here.”
[Photo by screen capture/YouTube]