A four-year-old boy was found safe after a harrowing 24-hour search in the desert.
On Friday, December 17, 2021, a four-year-old boy was outside playing with his dog when he wandered off from his family’s home on the Tohono O’odham Nation, near Sells, Arizona. The family noticed the child missing around 10:00 a.m. and, after unsuccessful efforts to locate him, reported the child missing to law enforcement around 11:45 a.m.
Tohono O’odham Police, Customs and Border Protection (CBP)- U.S. Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR), and the FBI pooled their resources, initiated a plan, and got to work in the search for the child. Time was of the essence as the boy could quickly succumb to hypothermia based on the time of year and weather conditions. There was also an added danger of the boy falling victim to wildlife as the Sonoran Desert is known for javelina, coyotes, and mountain lions.
Despite relentless searching by air and foot throughout the night and into the next day, officers and agents still had not located him.
Hope returned on Saturday, December 18, just after 12:00 p.m., when a helicopter from CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) spotted the boy waving for them. He was just 200 yards ahead of the officers on the ground. BORSTAR agents on the ground were able to provide basic first aid and blankets, and the boy was taken to the hospital for evaluation. After surviving a cold night in the desert, the boy was deemed healthy and placed back with his family.
During the search, it was discovered the boy had walked in large circles and was found approximately 5.5 miles from his home, and walked an estimated 12 to 15 miles throughout the 24-hour period. The boy’s dog appeared to be with him for most of the time, and returned to the house Saturday, shortly after 4:00 a.m.
The FBI provided investigative support and timeline details, BORSTAR led and conducted the search efforts, and Tohono O’odham Police provided support in all areas of the investigation. We would like to thank the Pima County Sheriff’s Department for the air support. Overall, more than 30 officers and agents assisted in the search.