The Ontario police officer who found a toddler “alive and well” after the child was lost in the woods north of Kingston, Ont., for more than 72 hours is telling the nearly miraculous story of his recovery.
“That’s the best day I’ve had in the OPP in 25 years,” said provincial Const. Scott McNames, who found three-year-old Jude Leyton in the woods of South Frontenac, Ont., Thursday just after 3 p.m.
Young Jude went missing Sunday before noon after OPP believe he wandered off from his family’s cottage on Canoe Lake Road.
Search and rescue efforts led by OPP’s East Region spanned days and nights. It included helicopters, drones, trained volunteers with OSARVA and water search and rescue teams. Despite these extensive efforts, time passed and Jude remained missing for three agonizing days.
His search became a touchpoint for the nearby community, with several volunteers wanting to join in despite please from OPP to stay away.
Thursday, around 3 p.m., more than three full days after the boy disappeared and no sign of the child, OPP decided to send some of its ground search officers home and focus on water recovery. Still, some officers remained on the ground.
McNames, a long-time OPP officer with the Lanark County detachment, and three other emergency response team members were tasked with searching the bush on the other side of a beaver pond, about one kilometer away from where Jude was last seen.
OPP find toddler missing in eastern Ontario forest for over 3 days ‘alive and well’
“As I was tying a piece of flagging tape to a tree branch, I saw something blue up ahead and just off to the right — you don’t see a lot of blue in nature in the bush — and it stood out,” McNames said in an interview with Global News Friday.
The officers realized it was Jude, sleeping near the pond.
“Then Jude, the little boy, raised his head and opened his eyes (another officer) said, and he’s alive,” McNames said.
Not only did Jude survive, but McNames said he seemed in good condition.
“I just picked him up and he was really thirsty,” McNames said.
OPP are unsure how Jude did so well out in the sometimes below zero, rainy and blustery weather, but the answer might be his clothes.
“When I picked him up, he was warm, he wasn’t cold, he wasn’t shivering. He was wet, but the wool sweater might have saved him,” McNames said. “He’s a tough little guy.”
It’s a nearly unbelievable outcome that shocked the nearby community, with thousands reacting to a tweet sent out by OPP when he was found.
It’s not the outcome many were expecting, including McNames who has been participating in searches for almost 20 years. But, he said, the successful outcome was the one they were all working for.
“The longer time passes, the less likely you’re going to get a successful outcome, and we’re all aware of that, but we still keep doing what we’re doing. You never give up,” he said.
For the teams tasked with finding Jude, the terrain was tough — hilly in places, wet and swampy in others — with a lot of tree cover. OPP say some officers and rescue volunteers covered something like 50 kilometers over the three-day stretch searching for Jude.
But this time, against the odds, McNames said the searchers got lucky, and he, the luckiest, was able to hand Jude back to his parents.
“That was a nice moment,” he said.
McNames — a father of three himself — said the family’s suffering during the search efforts spurred rescue teams on, despite coming up empty day after day.
“Almost all of us on the emergency response team are parents. We see Jude’s parents out — to see how upset they are in his family and everybody else there — everybody cares,” he said.
Finally, McNames said although he was the one to carry Jude out of the forest, the happy ending was the result of a massive team effort.
“It just happened to be me that was in that position. So no different than anybody else,” he finished.
Global News has not been able to get in touch with Jude’s family. They have not yet made any public comments on the matter and have asked for privacy following Jude’s recovery.
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