Sometime after 7 p.m. on Monday, 3-year-old Macklyn Berry wandered barefoot into the West Virginia woods near his home on Bonny Knob Lane near Kenna.
He was missing around 15 hours and meandered 1.5 miles away from his home before he was found around 10 a.m. the next day by local insurance agent Bill Morton and his wife.
It's hard to know exactly what it was like for a 3-year-old alone in the woods at night with only the sounds of the wilderness bearing down on him. What is known is the massive response sparked by the incident, from local and state public safety officials to the countless volunteers who offered their assistance during the search.
It truly was an amazing sight, during the night and that morning, to look up and see hundreds of people asking to assist. Many of these people had searched all night and could barely go anymore but kept pushing themselves. I can honestly remember one time getting in the vehicle to make a few calls and when I got back out 80 new people had showed up.Ripley Volunteer Fire Department Deputy Chief Ben Hersman
Jackson County Sheriff Tony Boggs said the response was unbelievable.
"We honestly weren't prepared for the onslaught of volunteers," he said.
Initially, about 142 people searched the woods overnight, with an additional 200 people pouring in the next days.
"That's just out in the woods," Boggs said. "We just started adding and adding."
Boggs said he had people calling him who never called him. Ever. Everyone from reformed drug addicts to local businessmen just asking how they could help.
"We had 70-year-old guys out walking the woods who I was genuinely worried about," he said.
Hundreds of vehicles lined the mile-long driveway to the boy's residence, Boggs said. People came from all over the state.
There were hundreds of cases of water and plenty of food to keep up the searchers' strength as they combed the woods. A great deal of these supplies came from places you would expect, like the American Red Cross, but much of it also came from unexpected sources, like local businesses who just showed up with supplies.
"One of the local oil and gas companies actually brought up port-a-johns on a trailer," Boggs said. "I saw things filing in and I don't know that any of it was actually requested. It's hard to fathom without being out there to witness it."
Ripley Volunteer Fire Department Deputy Chief Ben Hersman was also moved by the outpouring.
"It truly was an amazing sight, during the night and that morning, to look up and see hundreds of people asking to assist. Many of these people had searched all night and could barely go anymore but kept pushing themselves. I can honestly remember one time getting in the vehicle to make a few calls and when I got back out 80 new people had showed up," he said.
"Several of the pipeline workers had just gotten off work and came straight there to offer their assistance. One of employees brought his laptop with a very detailed mapping system and helped us make maps of areas we had already searched," Hersman added.
Numerous K-9 teams showed up to help throughout the night and into the next day.
"Calls poured in from other counties and other states offering any assistance that they could. I received one call from the Kanawha County Homeland Security and Emergency Management that said whatever you guys need it yours. Members from the Belle and Charleston Fire Departments brought dive teams up to assist with water operations. Members of departments in Ohio drove all the way down to also assist," Hersman said.
The level of cooperation between these agencies was phenomenal, Hersman said.
"I can remember sitting down in the front yard talking to some of the deputies who were talking about how exhausted they were and they asked 'so where do you want us to search next?' No matter how tired everyone was they continued to push on. This once again shows that when someone needs help, our state/community comes together and stands above the others," he said.
Boggs said he ran into people who were searching the area independent from the coordinated effort. In other words, people just showed up and started looking.
The effort could not have had a better conclusion. Morton and his wife found the boy with only a few bumps and bruises. When Boggs saw him, he was happy and eating snacks at the Morton residence.
"It made for a really good ending," Boggs said.