Searchers scour woods in vain
October 19, 2006
By MATTHEW PREUSCH
Missing – The hunt for the Portland 8-year-old who vanished at Crater Lake gets longer, wider and grimmer
CRATER LAKE — After nine hours of trudging through thick, wet woods in Crater Lake National Park looking for a Portland boy missing since Saturday, all Manny Ortiz’s 16-person Forest Service crew found was a deflated yellow balloon.
“That’s pretty much the only clue we’ve seen,” Ortiz said Wednesday.
Even though the rescuers believed the balloon was probably old trash unrelated to Samuel Boehlke’s disappearance, they marked its coordinates with a global-positioning unit.
There was a brief moment of hope the day before when a helicopter pilot spotted what he thought were footprints in the snow, but those turned out to be bear tracks.
As the fourth day of the massive operation drew to a close, the story from crews emerging from the now 50-square-mile search area was chillingly similar: still no sign of the elementary school student.
“It’s tough work,” said Ortiz, his black boots caked with mud. “Most of us have kids, and that’s what makes us try a little harder.”
Sam, or Sammy as he’s sometimes called, disappeared while visiting the park with his father, Ken Boehlke.
He walked away from his dad into the woods while the two were stopped at a pull-out near Cleetwood Cove on the northern edge of the caldera rim.
The boy’s family says he has an affinity for small places such as closets, so searchers have focused on rock overhangs, downed trees and similar natural features.
“There are a lot of places an 8-year-old could fit into,” said Rudy Evenson, search spokesman. Such a sheltering space would provide some measure of protection against snow, rain and sub-freezing temperatures on the mountain.
“Probably the best chance for survival is finding a place to den up, to stay dry and retain heat and warmth,” said Denny Ziemann, National Park Service incident commander.
Crews on Wednesday moved farther into the forested backcountry north of the lake after scans of the area around where the boy first went missing turned up nothing. The search now encompasses most of the northeast quarter of the park.
While warmer temperatures made roads easier to travel and somewhat improved conditions in the woods, searchers were soaked through for a second day by melting snow.
The number of searchers has dropped by about 50, down from a high near 200 Tuesday, Evenson said. An Oregon National Guard helicopter that had been scanning the area with heat detection equipment also left for a new mission.
Searchers so far haven’t concentrated on looking in the lake for the boy because they believe it’s unlikely he hiked down a mile-long trail to the water. And if he’d fallen down the steep cliffs along the rim, he would have landed short of the lake’s edge, Evenson said.
The boy’s parents are both on the scene, his mother having returned from Italy after hearing the news. They visited the search base camp set up near Cleetwood Cove but haven’t made any public statements since thanking searchers for their efforts earlier in the week.
“The family is doing about as well as can be expected given the circumstances, ” Evenson said. In Portland at the Sellwood Community Center, Sam is known as a loving kid who enjoys swimming lessons and playing in the park with friends.
And he always has a handful of Yu-Gi-Oh cards, a popular trading-card game among children his age, said Kim Calame, center director. Sam attended day camp at the center for the last four summers, she said.
Officials conducting the search have described Sam as having low-level autistic tendencies, but while he may have special needs, he fits right in with the others in the camp, Calame said. “He’s a very active little 8-year-old boy, just constantly giggling,” she said. “He loves hugs.” Some students have been asking questions since they saw news stories about his disappearance, Calame said, so instructors have been saying that people are looking for their friend.
“This is a small community center and everybody knows Sam,” Calame said. “He’s one of us. Our hearts are with him. We’re hoping for the best just like everyone else.”
Calame said she’s worried about Sam because he likes to play hide-and-seek.
“He wouldn’t understand the safety issue with it,” she said. “It was just a fun thing for him to do.”
Mark Larabee of The Oregonian contributed to this report. Matthew Preusch: 541-382-2006; firstname.lastname@example.org