Boy, 3, found unharmed three days after vanishing into woods
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Hope was starting to wear thin as the search for a missing 3-year-old boy entered its fourth day in southeastern Texas.
Authorities knew Christopher Ramirez had vanished between 1:30 and 2 pm Wednesday after chasing a neighbour's dog into the woods near Plantersville - and little else. With so few clues, Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell told reporters Saturday, "We were running on prayers, four-wheel-drive and overdrive." Tim Miller, director of volunteer search-and-recovery group Texas EquuSearch, said it would be "impossible" to find Christopher.
Later that morning, the impossible happened: A good Samaritan found the boy in a wooded area five miles from where he was reported missing, the sheriff's office said. The child was tired, hungry and dehydrated but otherwise unharmed.
Soon after, Christopher was back in his mother's arms, both of them crying.
How he survived the previous few days without food, water or shelter was not clear - and may never be. In a similar incident a month earlier, 3-year-old Anthony "AJ" Elfalak was discovered in a woodland area of Australia three days after disappearing from his family's remote property. Both families described their stories as miracles.
The search for Christopher began Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the toddler wandered off with the dog while his mother, Araceli Nunez, unloaded groceries at their home about 60 miles northwest of Houston. The dog returned, but the boy did not.
Relatives called authorities, who went door-to-door in the neighbourhood, looking for signs of the boy last seen wearing a green shirt and Mickey Mouse shoes, KAGS reported. The sheriff's office said early in the investigation that foul play was not suspected and that there was no evidence to suggest an abduction.
Nunez sobbed Thursday as she pleaded for help finding her child.
"I'm desperate, and my heart has a hole in it," she said in Spanish during a news conference, according to ABC News. "Please bring back my son, please help me."
The FBI and local agencies joined the effort, and more than 100 investigators used dogs and helicopters to try to find the boy in the rural area. Authorities drained three small bodies of water in their search, KAGS reported, and reviewed photographs of a child found at the US-Mexico border.
By Saturday, Sowell told reporters that he was thinking of the little boy found in Australia: "I said: 'How ironic. Hope, pray that ours is going to be the same way.' "
A break in the case came about 11 am Saturday, when a man called authorities and said he might have found Christopher. A person, described by the sheriff as "a humble and kind man that did not want his name mentioned," had decided to look for the boy after learning of his disappearance the previous night during Bible study.
The man, who gave his name only as Tim, told KPRC he was searching the woods near a pipeline when he heard what sounded like a child. He said investigators arrived at the scene and started searching, shouting Christopher's name. He called for Christopher, too.
"I called his name, and he responded, and he kept talking and talking," the man said. "And I just went through the thick of the woods and I found him."
Of finding out the boy was okay, Miller said: "There's no feeling like this."
Sowell thanked the community for the "tenacity, dedication and the spirit of never giving up in this mission to find Christopher."
The toddler was taken to Texas Children's Hospital to be monitored, with his mother by his side. On Monday, he left the hospital with an escort from first responders. Sowell said it was arranged after Christopher told a deputy that he liked the police and fire departments.
The boy and his mother arrived home to balloons, TV cameras and a crowd of police who lined up to hug him. Sowell pinned a junior deputy badge to his shirt, telling the group, "After all this, he's passed the survival test. He can be an Army Ranger, a Navy SEAL or a police officer or Air Force pararescue - or whatever he wants."
With Christopher on her hip, Nunez called the family's ordeal "an example that God exists, that God is with us," KWTX reported. She thanked everyone who helped bring him home. "I cannot put into words what I felt when I saw my son again and held him in my arms," she said.