From the CNN website:
A 12-year-old Boy Scout missing for four days in North Carolina’s wilderness wandered away from his campsite because he was homesick and planned to hitchhike home, the boy’s father said Tuesday.
Michael told his father he slept in tree branches during the night, drank river water and prayed he wouldn’t get sick. He said he got homesick because some of his closest friends had not gone on the camping trip, so he planned to walk to a highway and hitchhike to his home in Greensboro, North Carolina.
For three days, searchers combed the forest for Michael, who disappeared from his troop’s campsite on Saturday at Doughton Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Virginia state line.
Michael, who is from Greensboro, North Carolina, had remained with an adult at the campsite Saturday while other Scouts went for a hike, said Bauer of the park service. Michael was one of four boys and seven adults on the trip.
Dave Craft, assistant scoutmaster, said Michael stayed behind because his feet got cold after playing in a creek. He was tired and wasn’t feeling well, said Craft, who left the group Saturday afternoon on business.
When the other Scouts returned, they ate lunch with Michael, who later disappeared from the camp, Bauer said.
Once Scouts and their leaders noticed that Michael was not in camp, they began a search and, within a half-hour, called the park service, Bauer said.
What happened here? How did this lost Scout get lost in the first place?
How is it that a relatively small group of seven Scouts accompanied by four leaders could allow a Scout to get lost?
I am not interested in assigning blame or making judgments about a harrowing incident that could happen to just about any Scout Troop. There is some merit, however, in examining the story to prevent repeating it.
Trained Scouters will immediately raise the red flag at leaving a Scout in the campsite with one leader. That is a big no-no. But the boy didn’t get lost because he was in camp with just one instead of two leaders.
Did the Scout actually decide to run away from his troop and hitchhike home? I don’t think so. Note what his father said: “He started walking, and at one point when he was walking he thought maybe he’d walk as far as the road and hitchhike home.”
Reportedly he left the campsite to clean his mess kit and did not return. My best guess is that he got disoriented and could not find his way back. Search and rescue professionals report that lost people do some stunningly irrational things from panic (including hiding from rescuers). I think he panicked, ran around and (as was reported) lost his glasses and hat. Lost people enter into a disoriented state of shock and often cannot remember even the most basic details of the time they spent being lost.
I don’t think the boy is willfully lying, I think he just can’t really remember what happened.
In order for him to consciously decide to run away he would have to be unusually homesick. He would have to overcome all discipline and fear and be so adverse to confiding in an adult leader that running was his only course of action. Homesick boys don’t run, they cling. Angry boys run. I have yet to see a boy angry and homesick at the same time.
A consistent use of the buddy system could have prevented the incident.
If a Scout must do something out of sight of the Troop he should have
at least one buddy accompany him.
Keeping the group together would make loosing someone less likely. I am not a big fan of the ‘walk it off’ school of medicine, but cold, wet feet get warmer and dryer if you exercise a bit and ‘not feeling so well’ is a classic symptom of homesickness. It is hard to figure out if the Troop leadership was being overly cautious about the boy’s health or not, but my hunch is that they were.
We are all vulnerable to making mistakes and misjudgments. When in doubt we should consider our training, policy and common sense – one of the three is sure to keep us out of trouble.