2 Mercer firefighters tell how they found missing Washington County boy

Hundreds comb Washington county for autistic child

gkocher1@herald-leader.comSeptember 27, 2011 

WILLISBURG — Two days after a 7-year-old autistic Washington County boy was reported missing, two firefighters found him alive and well Monday.

Randall Leon Chesser was found well off Coulter Lane, about two miles northeast of the Willisburg fire station and three miles northeast of his house, shortly after 2:30 p.m.

Randall's discovery came on a day when crews intensified efforts to find him. Police expanded the search area and made a plea to residents to check their property for Randall. The search involved all-terrain vehicles, dogs and about 250 people, including volunteers and state and local authorities, many of whom walked the area.

Randall, who was last seen at his home about 6 p.m. Saturday, was found lying near a creek by Mercer County firefighters Chris Goodlett and Monte Kelly.

"We got down in there, and something kept telling us to stay," Goodlett told the Herald-Leader. "When we found his little boot track in that creek, we knew we were onto something."

Goodlett said they actually had passed Randall, so they went back. He said there were buzzards flying around, and "that was our sign."

Kelly said he went up to the boy and asked whether "he was OK, and he raised up and looked at me."

"I offered him water and crackers, and we sat there and ate until everybody showed up," Kelly said.

Goodlett said Randall kept saying, "Thank you, sir. Thank you sir."

When the boy saw his rescuers, the first words out of his mouth were, "I want to go home," said John A. Settles, Washington County judge-executive.

"We praised God just for the fact that we found him and found him alive," Settles said.

The child was wet but appeared to have no injuries, Settles said. Not a cut or bruise.

Settles said Randall was wearing cowboy boots with spurs.

"When they took them off they poured water out of them. That's how wet he was," Settles said.

Randall was taken by ambulance to a helicopter to be flown to Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville as a precautionary measure, said Capt. James Stephens, commander of the Kentucky State Police post in Columbia.

Hours before announcing they had found Randall, police had asked the public to "look under their trailer, look under their house, look in their garage, look in their old cars, look in their barns, any place where this child may have wandered to," Stephens said.

The search for Randall had resumed at daylight Monday morning with a mixture of local residents, concerned citizens and state authorities.

Several searchers who knew Randall offered advice before crews went out.

"He's been out there for two days and he's going to be scared if he sees you," said Keasha Harmon, who briefed search crews Monday.

Alenna Hamilton, a resource teacher at North Washington Elementary, told searchers that "if you find him, get down on his level and say, 'Hey, buddy, you want me to take you to momma?'"

The search was intense.

Sixty cadets in training to become state police troopers were tapped to join the search, and police said officers expanded the area being searched. Thirty cadets searched Monday morning, and they were to be relieved by the other 30 in the afternoon.

K-9 units from Lexington scoured the area Monday. State police had made a reverse 9-1-1 call Sunday night to hundreds of homes within a 27-mile radius of the boy's home in Willisburg.

The large effort paid off.

Asked whether crews faced a higher level of difficulty in locating Randall because he is autistic, Kevin Devine, emergency management director for Washington County, said the "biggest thing with him is he might not have hollered at us. That's why we had to do a very thorough search."

Heather Niewadomski of Willisburg was among those who helped with Monday's search.

"I've been in this community about 13 years now, and everything that happens in this community is just a group and family effort from a lot of people who want to help each other," she said. "I want to be a part of the community and give any help I can."

Devine said "we live in a community that is really close-knit and tight. When you need people for things, they will really help out."

Herald-Leader reporter Bill Estep contributed to this story. Follow HLpublicsafety via Twitter.com for breaking news updates.

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