Kevin Bednarek Jr., 7, and his family are back home in Buffalo today after a camping trip to a Pennsylvania forest that turned into a 24-hour nightmare.
Kevin became lost Monday afternoon in Little Pine State Park near Williamsport while walking from the family campsite to a creek, about 100 yards away, where his mother was fishing.
Before he was found nearly 24 hours later, Kevin spent the night wandering in the forested, hilly park, which has walls of mountain laurel up to 8 feet high and rattlesnakes.
When a volunteer from Pennsylvania's Civil Air Patrol located Kevin about 1 p.m. Tuesday, the boy was sitting beside a creek, scared and bewildered, but in good health.
"When I got in the ambulance with him, he said: 'Hi, Mom,' " Brenda Bednarek, Kevin's mother, said today in a telephone interview. "I grabbed hold of him and held him in my arms."
Before that reunion, 120 searchers from Pennsylvania state agencies, police and fire departments, and volunteer community groups worked through the night. The search included helicopters, scuba divers, boat patrols and men on horseback.
While they were searching, Kevin tried to help by turning inside-out his camouflage T-shirt, which he realized would be difficult to spot.
Kevin, who recently completed second grade at Buffalo's School 68, said he fell asleep three times during his ordeal and thought he had been gone for three days. He said he tried to sleep in open areas, figuring he would be easier to find.
"I was thinking I would die or something," he said today. "When I got lost, I must have walked over one hill, and when I tried to walk back the other way, I must have gone over a different hill."
Pennsylvania park officials figure Kevin walked about 4 1/2 miles and covered much of that ground during an overcast night with very little moonlight.
Lost persons are not uncommon in Little Pine State Park, according to James Beatty, a state forest fire specialist who headed the search team. But most of them are older and are found more quickly, he said.
"We were getting pretty concerned because of the boy's age," Beatty said. "Considering what he went through, he was in pretty good shape."
Gary Smith, assistant superintendent for the regional Bureau of State Parks, said it was fortunate that the temperature did not drop below 50 degrees the night Kevin wandered around the forested park, which ranges in altitude from 700 to 1,900 feet. Colder temperatures, he explained, could have caused the boy to suffer from hypothermia.
While Kevin wandered and napped and took occasional drinks from creeks, his father, Kevin Sr., a housekeeper at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and Mrs. Bednarek, a production worker at Niagara Candy, drove up and down park roads, calling out to their son.
"It was absolutely the worst thing I ever want to go through," said Mrs. Bednarek, who expressed her gratitude to the rescue team. "I haven't slept for three days. I'm just so happy it worked out the way it did."
The Bednareks, who camp out every year, cut short their Pennsylvania visit and drove home on Wednesday after Kevin got a clean bill of health.
They were catching up on their sleep today, and Kevin was eager to get back into his hobbies--skateboarding, basketball and hockey. His parents were also eager to get back into their routine and to leave their nightmare behind.
"Yesterday, when we got home, it all hit Kevin at once, and he started to cry," Mrs. Bednarek said. "He said he was scared."