3-year-old boy survives chilly nights, ticks, bears and snakes in 2 nights wandering Mo. woods

Child recovering after 52-hour trek in Mo. woods

CRYSTAL CITY, Mo. — Little Joshua Childers survived chilly nights, ponds and creeks, hills and boulders, ticks, bears, mountain lions and snakes in his two days of wandering the Missouri woods.

His father calls his 3-year-old a “tough little bugger” for making it out alive Wednesday. Cody Lundin, who runs a survivalist skills school in Arizona, says the boy’s tender age might actually have worked in his favor.

“Little kids don’t have any qualms about doing weird stuff,” Lundin said. “He probably didn’t have any problem burrowing into some leaves or using whatever was around him to keep warm. What hampers a lot of adults is they don’t want to get dirty or they’re afraid of bugs. Not a little kid.”

Joshua, who was wearing just a T-shirt, sneakers and a pull-up diaper, unbolted a lock on the back door of his family’s mobile home on Monday and walked away. He survived for 52 hours alone in the untamed woods of Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest before a searcher spotted him.

His father, Adam Childers, turned down interview requests on Thursday but spoke briefly to reporters after the child was found.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Childers said. “I don’t know grown men that could do it. But all I can say is he’s a tough little bugger.”

Experts agreed the biggest risk the boy faced was hypothermia. Temperatures dipped into the 40s, and heavy rain blanketed southern Missouri Tuesday night. When volunteer Donnie Halpin found Joshua, he was lying on the ground, soaking wet, splattered with mud, his bare bottom sticking out of the ground.

“Hey, bud!” Halpin called out, unsure the grimy boy was alive.

Joshua sat up and grinned.

“You ready to go home?” Halpin asked.

“Yeah,” said Joshua.

Once someone gets wet, temperatures in the 40s are dangerous, said Dr. Robert Kennedy, an emergency room physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“Certainly there have been black bears and mountain lions in that area, but the cold was more dangerous to him,” he said.

Madison County Sheriff David Lewis said the parents did nothing wrong and there is no criminal investigation. Adam Childers works an overnight shift and was sleeping at home Monday morning. The child’s mother was watching him, but was briefly distracted by a phone call.

“It can happen to anyone,” Lewis said.

Mary Jane Savage, 60, was in her home when she heard Halpin yelling out that he had found the boy alive. She brought Joshua into the kitchen, put him in the sink to wash off the mud and dirt, then wrapped him in a blanket and asked him if he wanted anything to eat or drink. He wanted milk.

Savage asked, “My goodness, Joshua, what have you been doing?”

“I took a hike,” he told her.

“I said, ‘You sure did.’”


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