Lost in Utah, boy feared abduction

After avoiding searchers, youth is found unharmed and reunited with family

June 23, 2005|By J. Michael Kennedy | J. Michael Kennedy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BOUNTIFUL, Utah - There were moments, terrible moments, when Jody Hawkins thought that her son could not have survived.

The terrain was too rugged. In four days of combing the Uinta Mountains for Brennan Hawkins, thousands of searchers hadn't come across a clue. It was as if the 11-year-old had vanished.

What hope Brennan's mother did hold on to came from what had not happened: Instead of the typically biting nighttime chill, temperatures had been relatively warm, in the 50s. The predicted rain held back, giving rescuers a chance to cover more ground.

On Tuesday, a Salt Lake City house painter named Forrest Nunley opted to take the day off and join in the search. After driving his all-terrain vehicle far into the back country around Lily Lake, Nunley was surprised to see Brennan standing in the trail, cold and dehydrated but apparently unhurt.

Yesterday, Brennan was home with his family here in Bountiful, a small community north of Salt Lake City. In the middle of the afternoon, the wide-eyed boy stood in front of the television cameras but let his parents and elder brother do the talking.

"He's doing very well," said Brennan's father, Toby Hawkins. "He's very tired, but playing with his brothers and friends."

The drama began Friday at a Scout camp along the east fork of the Bear River. Brennan, a Cub Scout, was in a harness, practicing wall climbing, when the dinner bell sounded. His friend went ahead back to camp, but Brennan apparently became disoriented and walked the wrong way.

He was reported missing a short time later, and the search began. Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said that one of the difficulties in finding Brennan was that he might have been hiding from rescuers because he had been taught not to talk to strangers.

"He didn't approach anyone because he thought he might be abducted," Edmunds said. "We were just baffled about how we weren't finding him."

A number of Scouts have become lost in the Utah wilderness over the years. Most were found easily. But last year, a 12-year- old named Garrett Bardsley disappeared and has never been found.

Jody Hawkins said that she was at the search command post Tuesday when she was told to go to a nearby dirt road. She waited alone, fearing the worst. Then she was told that her son was alive and well.

Nunley told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City that when he came upon the boy and asked for his name, "Brennan" was the reply. The boy was flown to Salt Lake City's Primary Children's Medical Center, where he was diagnosed as being mildly dehydrated and suffering from chapped lips and a bruised ankle. He was released a few hours later.

Jody Hawkins said that her son made it a habit each morning to tuck his legs under a T-shirt while he ate breakfast. He did the same thing in the wilderness, she said, in an effort to stay warm.

"He told me it was freezing at night," she said as friends and relatives came in and out of the house. "He told me his biggest fear was to be stolen. In this situation, that was a detriment to him."

She said the searchers were mostly rough-looking men who drove their ATVs for hours, then returned at the end of the day with tears in their eyes because they had not been able to find Brennan.

As one day extended into the next without a trace of Brennan, she said, her confidence that he was still alive began to flag.

But she said that her family's Mormon faith had played a major role in sustaining them during the crisis. She said the same was true for many of the others who were combing the wilderness.

Edmunds said that on Father's Day, more than 3,000 volunteers showed up to help, some of them driving hundreds of miles to join the search.

Jody Hawkins pointed to the lack of rain as a sign that Brennan was being looked after while he wandered through the mountains of northern Utah. Each day, she said, forecasters predicted rain, common for this time of year. And each day storm clouds gathered, but no rain fell.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, with Brennan safe, the storm clouds again began to form.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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