The search for a toddler who has been missing since Mother’s Day ended with good news on Wednesday.
Rescuers found 22-month-old Kenneth Howard in “remarkably good condition” on a ridge around a mile from his home Wednesday afternoon. The Kentucky State Police reported that Howard was found on a Floyd County strip mine that borders Magoffin County at about 2 p.m.
Prestonsburg Fire Department Chief Michael Brown, Prestonsburg firefighters Michael Tussey, Josh Parsons, Kenny Crisp, David volunteer firefighter Greg Davis, Belfry volunteer firefighter Danny Whitt, Clay Corbitt of the East Kentucky Trackers led the team, and Joey Cox of the Morgan County Search and Rescue made up the group who located Howard.
It was the third search that the Prestonsburg Fire Department conducted for the child since he went missing on Sunday, and it was the first search for some of the team members who helped locate the boy.
Brown and others praised the rescue as a team effort,” saying Howard was found “by the grace of God.”
“It’s amazing. Today makes what we do worthwhile,” Brown said.
He said finding Howard safe is inspiring.
“All those times that you have bad outcomes, this is that one that gives you the ray of hope where you always forge ahead and you never give up,” he said.
The team was doing a grid search in an area that had been previously searched and found Howard near a steep ridge that tied into what looked like an old logging road located about “a mile to a mile and a half” from the boy’s home. Officials say he was 1,755 feet from his home.
“During that time, firefighter Michael Tussey heard a cry and he asked everybody to be quiet because he had heard a child, the voice of a child,” Brown said. “So, we got quiet and started calling his name, and as we called his name over and over, he sporadically would speak up and he would give us a shout and we were able to pinpoint his location and move into where he was at.”
Tussey and Whitt made contact with Howard first. Tussey said all Howard wanted was something to drink and then he “started mumbling Mom and Dad.”
“I was bawling like a baby, I’m not going to lie,” Tussey said. “When you come through the thick terrain that we just went through … and all you see is a little blonde head with blue eyes that you was expecting not to be alive and he was alive, screaming at you, that’s something that hits the heart.”
He said it surprised him to find him.
“Because we didn’t expect him to be alive. We didn’t expect him to be there,” Tussey said.
He said, “The man up above is the reason that little boy is here. There’s no doubt.”
Tussey said he and Corbitt finished searching that area on Tuesday night and stopped near a deer stand on the hill. The next day, organizers brought rescuers back to that area to search again because a footprint was found in an ATV track there.
Tussey praised the team effort of this rescue, saying his team could not have been searching that area again if there weren’t other rescuers out in other areas.
Officials reported that rescuers cut holes in a backpack to bring Howard out of the hills. He was airlifted from the area, suffering with “severe dehydration,” Carter said, and he is currently being treated at Cabell Huntington Hospital. His parents have requested privacy.
Hundreds of people from 14 departments throughout the region and other states participated in the search, using five search dog teams, drones, helicopters and other specialized equipment to search around 300 acres of property. The bulk of the search took place in a one-half mile radius from the boy’s home, and was expanded to include the strip mine area near where Howard was found.
Leaders from the search and rescue effort answered questions for local, state and national media at Prestonsburg City Hall Thursday afternoon.
Magoffin County Rescue Squad Chief Carter Conley reported that Howard’s mother said he was “doing exceedingly good,” reporting he was eating well and is not longer on an IV.
“They are not sure when he’s going to be released, but this is a positive outlook and a full recovery is expected,” he said.
John May of the Wolfe County Search and Rescue, described the terrain as dangerous, with 30- to 40-ft. cliffs and reporting that search teams found evidence of bears in the area and had reports of coyotes and bobcats there.
“Having a 22-month old go up some of those hills, it’s pretty surprising, to be honest,” May said. “I was a little shocked where they found him that far away from the home and in that condition. Some of the ATVs couldn’t go up some of the trails that were in there. They were that steep.”
Chris Hector, director of the Kentucky Emergency Management local office, called the rescue a “God send,” noting rescuers had passed by that area previously.
The Kentucky State Police continues the investigation. Public Affairs Officer William Petry said that investigation could continue for weeks or months as officials work their way through documents and information provided by all teams involved.
A good portion of the press conference was spent with Petry addressing what he suggested was false information that was published on Facebook.
“If you’re talking about Facebook, I can’t, I don’t have enough paperwork to put it all on,” Petry said, answering questions about allegations raised by people on Facebook. “There’s been a lot of people voicing their opinions. If they could put the facts on there, it would help us and these guys back here a whole lot, but that doesn’t happen nowadays, so. Yeah, there’s comments out there and we’ve not found any of them to have any bite in them at all.”
He said at this time, the case is being investigated as a missing persons case.