ARCADIA, Mo. -- Relieved grownups are marveling at the tenacity of a toddler who spent two days and nights in a chilly national forest before searchers found him, barely clothed and covered in ticks but otherwise fine.
Three-year-old Joshua Childers wandered away from his family's trailer and into the Mark Twain National Forest on Monday while his dad slept and his mother talked on the phone. His grandma, Terry Schulte, said Joshua later told her he was on his way to visit her at her home, five miles away.
Along the way, the boy lost his pullup diaper and a shoe. He was wearing just a T-shirt and a tennis shoe when he a volunteer searcher spied his bare bottom near a creek yesterday afternoon.
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"Hey, bud!" called out Donnie Halpin, a 57-year-old construction worker from nearby Fredericktown, who wasn't sure whether the grimy figure was even alive.
But Joshua sat right up and grinned at his rescuer.
"You ready to go home?" Halpin asked.
"Yeah," said Joshua.
Halpin wrapped the child in his shirt, scooped him up and carried him about a half-mile to a house.
"He hung on to me pretty tight," said Halpin, who didn't have any water for the child but gave him some candy. "Outside of a few scratches, he was in really good shape."
"I'm going to put him up for the Grizzly Adams Award, send him bear-hunting with a stick," his overjoyed father, Adam Childers, told reporters, marveling at his son's survival skills.
Madison County Sheriff David Lewis said searchers had been growing increasingly pessimistic about their chances of finding Joshua alive in the woods, home to bears snakes and mountain lions. He figured three days was about the limit for the boy's survival in the wild without food and water.
"It's a miracle," Lewis said. "I'm so happy, you can't believe it."
Doctors have told him that his son is a little dehydrated but otherwise fine, Childers said. The child was evaluated and listed in fair condition, first at Iron County Hospital and later at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Crystal City, where he was transferred because it has a larger pediatric unit.
The boy has been asking for milk and hot dogs since his rescue, Childers said.