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Rescue efforts shift to recovery


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Portland, Oregon
October 20, 2006

Missing - It's becoming less and less likely that the Portland boy lost near Crater Lake will be found alive

CRATER LAKE -- After almost a week of fruitless searching, the hunt for a Portland boy missing near Crater Lake is scaling back today.

For the first time since 8-year-old Samuel Boehlke disappeared Saturday while visiting the national park with his father, crews will no longer walk into the woods north of the lake to do a grid search.

Instead, they'll start taking down hundreds of feet of orange tape from tree limbs and begin heading home.


"It comes to a point where you can't have 200 people out there," said incident commander Denny Ziemann. Searchers have come from up and down the West Coast to help out.

On Thursday, crews assembled for one final sweep through the forest above the rim road near where the boy was last seen at a pull-out near Cleetwood Cove, across the lake from the popular Rim Village visitors area.

At the same time, a team of Crater Lake National Park cavers explored eight or nine caves discovered earlier in the week in the woods in the same general area near the cove.

"We basically threw the kitchen sink at it," Ziemann said.

But with no new leads and so many days of snow, rain and sub-freezing temperatures, the operation is now changing into a recovery effort rather than a rescue. "We're probably down to a very little chance of survival given the circumstances," Ziemann said.

Local searchers, including dog teams, will continue to patrol the area, he said. "It's not a termination of the search," he said. "The search will last forever and ever until we find him. It's just going to be smaller."

Meanwhile, members of the boy's family, who are staying at seasonal housing inside the park, shared more information about his mild developmental disabilities.

Sammy, as he's known, has been diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, a form of high-functioning autism similar to Asperger's syndrome, said Rudy Evenson, a search spokesman. The condition makes him especially sensitive to loud noises, he said.

That's kept searchers from using noisemakers such as air horns as they typically would during a search to attract the attention of whoever's lost.

"Sammy tends to run away, hide, when he hears those kinds of noises," Evenson said.

The disorder also can include such features as clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements, social impairments, intellectual preoccupations, repetitive routines and rituals, and speech and language peculiarities.

Sammy also has an affinity for small spaces, so searchers have focused on sheltered spots such as rock overhangs in the hope of finding him holed up, but they have turned up no sign of him.

Sammy and his father, Ken Boehlke, were touring the park when they pulled off near Cleetwood Cove to take in the scenery.

The two climbed an embankment on the side of the road opposite the lake when the boy apparently decided to play hide-and-seek and dashed into the conifer forest, Evenson said.

"Sammy saw it as a play type of behavior," Evenson said. "Apparently he has done that type of behavior before, like in city parks."

After searching for the boy for more than an hour, his father flagged down a passing motorist, who used a cell phone to call 9-1-1, triggering the search.

Sammy did the same sort of thing when he attended the day camp program for the past four summers at the Sellwood Community Center, said Kim Calame, the center's director.

He liked to hide, was good at playing hide-and-seek and wouldn't understand that his safety might be in danger if he didn't come out of his hiding place, she said.

"He does have a tendency to take off," she said. "It didn't surprise any of us that he got out of the car and took off. It's just a game to him."

Two years ago, a group of children were playing hide-and-seek in Sellwood Park and Sammy couldn't be found, she said. Eventually, camp staffers called the police and fire departments to help look for him.

"We were worried, we called his mom, and she finally screamed and said, 'Sam, you won. You're the best hider,' and he popped out from behind a tree," Calame said.

Sam also likes to dig. Calame said some of her staff members have worried that the boy "just dug in somewhere." Workers at the community center have called Crater Lake to pass on the information, hoping it will help in the search.

Larry Bingham and Mark Larabee of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report. Matthew Preusch: 541-382-2006;


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