The remarkable story of three-year-old Jude Leyton’s survival for three days alone in an eastern Ontario forest began last Sunday when he was helping his grandfather, Chris Fisher, build a swing in his workshop.
“He stepped out the door for a couple of seconds and I didn’t think much of it at the time,” Fisher told CBC News. “And maybe less than a minute later, I went outside and there was no sign of him.”
Leyton had wandered into the woods surrounding the family’s fishing lodge on Canoe Lake Road in the South Frontenac area, approximately 50 kilometres north of Kingston, Ont., setting off a frantic search of the rugged and hilly terrain.
Around 100 police officers and search and rescue volunteers, along with two helicopters, a dive team and four canine units combed the trails, swamp, lakes and brush looking for the young boy.
As the hours turned to days, and the search for Leyton broadened, the family clung to hope, but braced for the worst.
Sunday night it rained. On Monday, temperatures dipped below freezing. After three days, Leyton hadn’t been spotted.
His family knew how important every minute was for finding him.
“You always have a glimmer of hope, but it was getting a little more remote,” said Fisher.
Alive and well
Against all odds, Leyton was located alive and well around 3 p.m. Wednesday by a team of four members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) emergency response team while they searched a hilly part of the forest beyond the main search area.
Const. Scott McNames, a 19-year veteran of the team, was marking a tree when he spotted the boy’s blue winter jacket.
“I was just taping a piece of tape to a branch and I looked beyond the branch and I noticed some blue, maybe 20 metres off,” McNames CBC Radio’s .
“I mean blue, light blue, that didn’t belong in the woods.”
He called out to his partner, Const. Greg Verney, who clambered up a set of rocks to reach the area where McNames was pointing. That’s where Verney discovered Leyton, lying down.
“I didn’t see him moving initially. So when I called out, I had a little bit of a sombre tone to me. I was like, ‘Hey, guys, we got him here,’ and wasn’t expecting the outcome that we got,” said Verney.
“And then as I got closer, I said it a little louder. And I think maybe my louder call out to my partners might have stirred Jude a little bit. And he opened his eyes.”
“At that point, we were completely, completely shocked and surprised and the mood changed from sombreness to ‘OK, now we’ve got work to do.'”
‘I didn’t believe it’
The little boy was dazed and dehydrated, but appeared to be in good condition. Officers gave the boy water, wrapped him in warm blankets and led him out of the forest where he was reunited with his family, including his parents, Clayton and Katherine.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” said Fisher. “The OPP came out of the woods on the trail with an ATV and I physically had to touch him, sort of stroke his hair. ”
Paramedics drove Leyton to Kingston General Hospital, where he has been staying for the past couple days while being monitored by health-care workers.
Jude was returned to us due to the unrelenting dedication and perseverance of the OPP’s Search and Rescue Ground, Air, and Underwater teams and tireless effort of community volunteer searchers, firefighters and paramedics.
Katherine Leyton, Jude’s mother, posted on social media the day after he was found, thanking the OPP and volunteers for their “unrelenting dedication and perseverance.”
“We can’t begin to express how we feel to have our incredible, resilient son Jude back safe in our arms,” she wrote.
“Our entire extended family is beyond elated after what was undoubtedly the worst experience of our lives.
“Our sweet Jude miraculously defied all odds and we are overwhelmed by and profoundly grateful for the thoughts, prayers, and unwavering hope from everyone touched by his loss and recovery.”
Leyton also posted photos of the three-year-old that show him eating in a hospital bed and sleeping beside a teddy bear.
The boy’s stunning survival defied expectations of both family and police.
Neither McNames nor Verney could explain how Leyton beat the odds, but both credited the wool sweater Leyton was wearing for keeping him warm during the three-day ordeal.
For Fisher, he’s overjoyed to have his grandson back safe and sound.
“Especially after a year of pandemic, it’s a very joyous story,” he said.
“We’re just really glad it’s over and we just want to go back to our normal lives and enjoy Jude’s company, as we always have.”
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