LEWISTON — Helena Gagliano-McFarland walked into City Cab in Lewiston early Saturday morning carrying a neatly folded quilt and a fuzzy stuffed bear.

“This is the blanket I’m going to wrap my son in when we find him,” she said, as tears leaked slowly from her eyes.

Her son, 5-year-old Valerio McFarland, fell into the Androscoggin River on April 24. Her older son, 10-year-old Maxim McFarland, immediately jumped in after his brother to save him, and both boys were swept down the river.

Maxim, expected to make a full recovery, was rescued that evening. His little brother was not found.

“We cannot move forward until we find the body,” said Robin Schmidt, a close friend of the McFarland family, who flew from Seattle, Wash., and organized volunteer efforts to find the boy.

Since Wednesday, Schmidt said, they’ve had between 20 and 40 volunteers every day searching for the boy who had recently moved to Auburn with his family.


“I want my son back,” Gagliano-McFarland said. “I’m not going to let my son rot in the river like a piece of trash.”

Before the volunteers went out, they held a prayer group, headed by Lisa Trask.

“Please give us the strength to not give up,” she whispered tearfully.

Her son, Jacoby Golden, 5, was Valerio’s best friend.

“They went to day care together, and were attached at the hip,” Trask said. “Jacoby always comes home talking about how Valerio is the fastest in the class and the best at this and that.”

Jacoby shared an embrace with his best friend’s mother, who squeezed him back, tears welling from her tightly shut eyes, and then asked him how he was doing.


Linda Lee of Auburn said she was there because she has grandchildren close to the same age as the missing boy.

“Seeing the faces of the children and hearing the pain in the parents’ voices, I just want to help them,” Lee said. “If it were my family, I’d want help.”

Gagliano-McFarland said that while she’s grateful for the volunteers devoting their time to searching for her son, she didn’t believe they should be the ones out looking.

“What’s really messed up is (my husband) and I have had to do research on how a body behaves in the water,” Gagliano-McFarland said. “A grieving person should not be doing this, the emotional toll is already sky high.” She had hoped a heavy presence of game wardens and other first responders on the river would continue until her son was found.

Because her husband, Jason McFarland, is a veteran who completed two tours in Afghanistan and received a Purple Heart, Gagliano-McFarland thought the National Guard would be assisting in the search.

“I’m giving them time to correct this,” she said. “I will contact the VA, Military Times, Fox News, CNN. I will reach out to everybody, whatever I have to do.”


At a news conference Saturday, Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service said wardens will not give up until they find the boy, but river conditions have made it unsafe and at times impossible to deploy every asset.

Visibility for divers was “essentially zero” by the time they were scaled back, and there were times when the flow of the water was triple what it usually is, MacDonald said.

“We have not called off our efforts,” he said. “Since the incident took place, we’ve had significant assets there on the river up to today, and we continue to do that. We have to focus our efforts, at least initially, on evidence that points us to the highest probability areas. We just don’t have a clear indication of where we need to be right now.”

Because they don’t know exactly where to look, MacDonald said, wardens have not put in a formal request to the National Guard to assist in search efforts. The Warden Service has deployed police dogs, which they hope will help them pinpoint the search area.

“It’s critical the dogs have a good air sense, and there might be extra contamination from more people along the river,” MacDonald said. “If clues change and we have particulars, we might ask (the National Guard) to get involved.”

MacDonald acknowledged the McFarland family’s pain, and said what they are going through is “the most tragic thing” a family can go through.


“Not only did they lose a loved one, but they don’t know where he is,” MacDonald said. “We don’t blame them for wanting to have extra help in looking for their son. What we can’t endorse or be part of is a large voluntary effort with, quite frankly, people’s hearts that might be greater than their abilities. We understand from a family standpoint, whatever takes place might not be enough in their eyes.”

Not all of the volunteer searchers lacked ability, including Jeff Moore, a professional fisherman who put his airboat in the Androscoggin on Saturday at the Durham boat launch. This is the seventh search for a missing person that he’s participated in, and conditions were not ideal, he said.

“Here at the landing it’s great, but once you get around the corner the wind is just howling and the current is moving a lot faster than it is here,” Moore said. “If you’re out there on a boat today you should know what you’re doing.”

Gagliano-McFarland had left messages with Gov. Paul LePage, asking him for his support in the search effort, but had not heard back from him. She said a petition was being circulated with 1,500 signatures, asking the governor “to do something.”

“When I lay down at night, there’s nothing but him,” the mother said. “I see him every time I close my eyes. I look at pictures and videos, and just feel pure, unrelenting pain the whole time.

Looking down at the river she said, “He doesn’t deserve to be there.”

[email protected]

[do_widget id=td_block_7_widget-7]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.