Missing for 24 hours, N.C. toddler found safe

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OXFORD, N.C. – A feverish 24-hour search ended joyfully Saturday night when searchers found a toddler who had wandered away from his parents’ Granville County home.

Connor Cummings, 23 months old, was found about 8:30 p.m. sitting on a stump about one mile from his house. “He had a lot of ticks on him and his diaper was full, but he was feeling fine,” said volunteer Steve Brewer, who found the boy along with Craig Vaugan. “It was a happy ending.”

The discovery capped a wrenching search in a rural area marked by thorny underbrush and rough terrain. About 300 volunteers had searched on horseback, ATV and foot – marching shoulder-to-shoulder – in a two-mile radius around the child’s home on Jack Adcock Road in Goshen, a tiny community tucked in the northwest corner of Granville County.

Brewer and Vaugan, both of Oxford, had searched since 7 a.m. Rescue teams had vowed to search through a second night when they found Connor.

An hour later, Connor was sitting is his kitchen, surrounded by his family, eating an orange freezer pop and drinking from a sippy cup. “Except for the scratches and bruises and some dehydration, he’s none the worse for wear,” said his mother, Teresa Cummings, along with her husband, Jeff.

“It’s been the most horrible experience,” the mother said. “God answers prayers. You pray and you pray, and he answers. It worked.”

The toddler was believed to have wandered away about 6:30 p.m. Friday from his parents’ home. He was last seen by his mother as she fed the family’s many dogs at the expansive kennel behind their white, two-story house with a wide front porch and an inflatable baby pool in the backyard.

After a short time, she realized he was missing, along with his dog Sandy, a golden lab. The mother searched on her own for about two hours before calling the Granville County Sheriff’s Office as the sun set.

Search crews combed the woods near the home all night, and a command post was set up at a nearby church.

On Saturday morning, six specially trained rescue teams with dogs were on the scene, and two helicopters were overhead. The Civil Air Patrol put several single-engine planes in the air. Volunteers on horseback and all-terrain vehicles joined the search.

“It’s extremely wooded and rugged,” said Det. Jason Tingen of the Oxford Police Department, which was assisting the sheriff’s office.

On Saturday afternoon, Connor’s mother walked back down the gravel path to the kennels where her son disappeared.

“Dogs have to be fed,” she said, the strain etched on her face. “It’s been almost 24 hours.”

Connor’s name echoed through the rugged woods as more than 300 volunteer firefighters, law officers, dog teams and volunteers from the surrounding countryside combed land extending up to two miles from his home.

It had rained hard Friday night, and storm clouds gathered again Saturday. Thunder rumbled in the distance before a short downpour briefly knocked back the heat and drenched the clothes of those already sticky with sweat.

As the daylight grew short, the prospect that the boy might spend a second night alone in the wilderness spurred those looking for him to tread the same ground searched before. They rolled over logs and peered into the shallow pools of a nearby creek looking for any sign of him.

As the search had dragged on without success, officials began to fear the worst.

The break came, Brewer said, when he and Vaugan heard Sandy bark while they were walking a power-line clearing. They had been calling both names, Sandy and Connor. They summoned all-terrain vehicles and found Sandy with Connor.



(c) 2007, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).

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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

BOYFOUND

AP-NY-06-30-07 2312EDT

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