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A Missing Boy and Private Terror

by Pat Dooris

Bio | Email | Follow: @PatDoorisKGW

Posted on October 19, 2006 at 11:34 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:40 PM


Written by Pat Dooris 10/18/06

I spent the last three days in Southern Oregon near Crater Lake. We were there to report on the search for 8 year old Sammy Boehlke, a Portland boy who disappeared Saturday October 14th.

The boy and his father were staying at Diamond Lake which is 25 miles to the north. According to search coordinators they decided to take a scenic drive around Crater Lake.

The father stopped his car on the north side of the lake near the Cleetwood Cove trail head.

Searchers were told the boy and father walked up a slight side hill across the road from the lake, then the boy sprinted ahead. The father lost sight of him and could not find him.

The father later told searchers the boy has autistic type behavior--although he's never been diagnosed with it. Searchers were also told he likes to hide.

Sammy is 8 years old.

I have an 8 year old son named Patrick.

Covering the search is like walking into a personal nightmare.

I've never lost a child, but I've come close.

When my boys were young, we took them to OMSI in downtown Portland. Being the good husband and father, I volunteered to watch our two while my wife, Jackie, explored an exhibit in the museum.

We went to the sand box in the room reserved for young children.

Things were going fine until I started chatting with some of the other dads and watched with only one eye as Patrick toddled away.

I didnt go after him because we were in an enclosed room full of fun tables where Patrick loved to play.

When Jackie returned five minutes later she asked, "where's Patrick?"

"Oh-he's right around here somewhere", I said.

She was back seconds later. "No he's not. He's not anywhere in this room!"

A woman next to us said "You'd better call security right now---someone could have him!"

I stopped breathing. I ran through the room looking for him. On the back wall I found a series of office doors and opened every one --- no one had seen him.

I dashed outside the room and began a frantic search.

Minutes later Jackie called out that she had him. He'd found his way into a room in the children's area labelled "nursing mothers". It was the only one I did not check.

I will never forget that feeling of panic and terror.

I'm sure its a million times worse for Sammy's father and the rest of his family.

As I write this its been four days since he disappeared.

The first night, the weather was cold and rainy. That was Saturday. Sunday it rained all day long. Sunday night was cold again. Monday it snowed six inches.

Tuesday and Wednesday were clear but cold. The temperature dipped below thirty degrees each night.

Searchers raced to the area as soon as they got the call for help. But Crater Lake is a long ways from anywhere.

Park Service workers got to the scene first, Saturday night, and looked for the boy until two or three in morning.

More crews arrived Sunday---bringing horses and dogs and mountaineering knowledge.

But despite their best efforts---there's been no sign of the boy.

I've tried talking with a few about the emotional tug they feel to drop everything and come to the search. Most shrug it off---which doesnt mean its not there.

The Yosemite High Angle rescue team hit the road two hours after getting the call to help Sunday night. It took them more than ten hours to reach Crater Lake.

Their spokesman said he himself has two small children and would do what ever he could.

A member of the Corvallis Mountain Rescue team admitted he too has an 8 year old. He wouldn't go on camera, he said, because he knew he'd cry thinking about the missing child. His eyes welled up as he said that.

Its an amazing group of people who rushed here to help find a child.

I wonder what they're thinking and feeling as they trudge through the snow day after day with no results.

I suspect many of them focus on the immediate task at hand and try not to think of a little boy, lost and freezing in the wilderness.

I tried that too.

But when the immediate tasks are done--- emotion creeps in and sleeping is not easy.

I woke twice to nightmares of a boy reaching out for help.