To have a child go missing is a parent’s worst fear. That’s why when one little boy, only six years old, disappeared from his home in Tennessee, his parents went through pure agony. Their entire community was shaken to its core and did everything it could to help find the young boy. Even the military deployed a Black Hawk helicopter as part of the search! They feared his was all alone in the woods, a dangerous place for a little boy to be all alone. After 22 hours, the boy suddenly walked out of the woods, but he wasn’t alone! Read here to find out what was really going on while search crews were racing against time to find him.
1. Every Parent’s Nightmare
Hailing from a small community called Top of the World, situated in Blount County, Tennessee, Kaydon’s parents allowed him to play alone outside as long as he didn’t veer away from his home or wander too far off without permission.
However, on the evening of Monday April 23, 2018, Kaydon’s parents grew extremely concerned when their son wasn’t back home by 6 p.m. They had no doubt he had enjoyed himself playing outside as he usually did, but by the time evening came round, it was no longer fun and games for them.
2. A Good Child
Kaydon Leach, a good and happy young boy, always enjoyed being outdoors and getting up to mischief like any other six year old. He especially loved to play with his pets, in particular, his beloved black and white terrier named Chula.
At first, they thought Kaydon was somewhere around the house, but as the minutes ticked by, they decided to alert Blount County Sheriff, James Lee Berrong. They weren’t going to take any chances, as it was growing cold and dark and they knew their son didn’t have a coat.
3. A Normal Evening
There is no doubt that a missing child is any parent’s worst nightmare. A parent naturally wants to protect his or her child no matter what, so when this instinct is put to the test, it can be nothing short of frightening.
That was the case for Kaydon Leach’s parents. They couldn’t understand why he suddenly vanished, and all they wanted to do was find him and bring him home safe and sound. They didn’t know it yet, but something very strange was going on. They did have that feeling in the pit of their stomachs, though.
4. No Time to Waste
Knowing there was no time to waste in getting the word out about the missing boy, the County Sheriff enlisted help right away. Usually one has to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person alert, but in this close-knit community that didn’t have to be the case for missing Kaydon.
Kaydon’s parents were worried sick their child was lost somewhere, without even a coat to keep him warm. The Sheriff didn’t want them to think of the worst scenario just yet, so he immediately got to work to provide the Leaches what little relief he could.
5. The Profile
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released an endangered child alert that evening at 7 p.m., reporting the Sheriff Office’s description of Kaydon. It implored the community to help locate the boy, noting he was last seen at around 6 p.m.
Kaydon was described by his parents as weighing 60 pounds (27 kg), standing 4 feet tall, and having brown hair and blue eyes. They also told the Sheriff that Kaydon was wearing gray sweatpants, a black T-shirt, and slip-on shoes at the time of his disappearance.
6. Large Scale Search
The local Sheriff launched a search and rescue mission with the help of a military Blackhawk helicopter from the nearby McGhee Tyson Airbase. The search began very quickly after James Lee Berrong received the phone call from Kaydon Leach’s parents.
Besides for recruiting the helicopter to scour the area for Kaydon, a search and rescue team also conducted a ground operation, which included almost 100 first responders covering a remote mountainous terrain of 2,000 acres. The question that remained was would this be enough to find the little boy before dark?
7. A Strategic Plan
Ground teams, including the FBI, TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Information), Blount County Sheriff’s Department, Blount County Fire Department, Blount County Search and Rescue Team, as well as Blount County Chief Deputy Jeff French, conducted grid searches around the area to find Kaydon.
Marian O’Briant, the spokeswoman for the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, told WVLT News that along with the military assistance, the ground search teams would search all night if that’s what it would take to locate Kaydon’s whereabouts. However, there were other searches going on as well.
8. Helping Hands
The local community also reached out when word got out about Kaydon’s disappearance. Blount County Emergency Services broadcast an IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert & Warning System) message a few hours later to inform everyone about what was going on and provide updates.
As soon as the local community members read the message, they knew they couldn’t sit idly by while a child’s life was hanging in the balance. They thought of their own children and grandchildren, which really struck an emotional chord with them.
9. The Power of Smartphone Apps
Not only did the Blount County community receive the IPAWS message, the news also circulated via a smartphone application called Next Door, which provides a sort of private social network for neighborhoods. Even if some individuals couldn’t actively help search for Kaydon Leach, they rallied around doing whatever they could.
One of the local search volunteers told WVLT News: “We’re a very tight community. We try to help everyone. I got a phone call about what was going on. I was coming up the mountain from work and just shot straight over and did everything I could to help.”
10. Paying it Forward
When one of the neighborhood’s residents, Megan Kessler, heard the news about poor little Kaydon’s disappearance, she took it upon herself to launch her own initiative to help the search and rescue volunteer and emergency teams with food and water.
“We knew it was going to be a long night,” she told WVLT News. “We brought coffee, chili, whatever they needed. We wanted to make sure we could supply it. They wouldn’t let us search, so we did what we could.”
11. Going Viral
Just when everyone was out helping and spreading the news, a Facebook post was released by the Tennessee Endangered Child Alert. The post, which was shared by WBIR Channel 10, contained a picture and description of Kaydon Leach and the surrounding circumstances.
Not long after the post was updated with more information, it was shared more than 2,000 times and received more than 350 reactions. It was clear that the whole community was in it together with Kaydon’s parents. The message spread like wildfire.
12. Running Out of Time
Despite all the efforts by the search and rescue teams, along with the assistance of local volunteers, the search seemed to be fruitless. Kaydon was nowhere to be found and it had grown dark and cold already. Time was running short.
Authorities were also concerned that Kaydon might suffer from a respiratory infection if he wasn’t found soon. He wasn’t wearing warm enough clothes, and that could prove fatal for such a young boy. This just made the search even more urgent.
13. Pushing On
The search continued on through the next with a focus on the area that was within a half-mile radius of Kaydon Leach’s home. They needed to wait for daylight to expand the search further again into the rural and mountainous surrounding area.
Naturally, Kaydon’s parents were worried sick about their precious son. They were frightened, nervous, and even felt guilty for letting him play outside. It would take some more time, but soon they’d find out that their son was okay and not alone.
14. A Dedicated Community
Blount County’s community had proven just how dedicated and close-knit the members really were by staying up through the night, handing out water and snacks to the rescue teams. The first responders were working tirelessly to find Kaydon and it was the least they could do.
No one was prepared to give up just yet. They knew Kaydon had to be somewhere; it was just a matter of staying focused, dedicated, and not giving up on the mission until he was safe at home. And they weren’t giving up yet.
15. A Daylight Mission
When the morning daylight came, it was easier to look for Kaydon in the daylight. It was not an easy task, but that didn’t prevent anyone from giving up just yet. Hopefully, they’d find him in daylight, safe and sound.
The search crews had more ideas of where to look, so it was time to buckle down and find the missing boy as soon as possible. His parents were so worried their child was starving, scared, and alone, so everyone prayed he was okay.
16. Turning Over Every Stone
The search crews ran to the lake to see if Kaydon had maybe fallen in or drowned, but he was nowhere to be seen there. While the ground search was going on, the Blackhawk helicopter also continued its search from the air.
When he wasn’t seen by the lake, the search teams looked on the mountainsides and even in several abandoned buildings to see if perhaps Kaydon hid in a building overnight, hiding for protection against the cold. But unfortunately, they weren’t that lucky.
17. Nothing Yet
The morning hours ticked by and Kaydon Leach was still missing. His parents tried to guess where he could have wandered off to, or if something more sinister could have occurred, the latter of which was very rare in their community.
It just didn’t make sense to them that he would have suddenly disappeared, as he knew his curfew and how far he was allowed to venture out in the surrounding area. Something didn’t add up, and Kaydon’s parents knew it in their hearts.
18. Off the Beaten Track
The rescue volunteers tried to get into the mind of a six-year-old boy. They wanted to imagine where he could have gone while playing outside. This required them to think a little out of the box and think like a child.
They decided to look at places and areas they wouldn’t have otherwise considered, like deep in the woods and other abandoned buildings in the area. Little did they know it yet, but they were getting much closer to finding Kaydon than they knew.
19. Into the Woods
Once the search crew entered the stretch of woods near the Top of the World community, they vigorously scanned the entire area. If Kaydon wasn’t there, then they weren’t really sure where else he could have gone the night before.
The afternoon was creeping by, so all the volunteers knew they had to keep searching before night fell once again. The clock was ticking. It was just at that moment when they heard a noise coming from the woods that peaked their interest.
20. Follow the Growl
About 22 hours after Kaydon Leach had gone missing, the rescue teams were finally onto something. They suddenly heard a growl coming from inside the woods, and as they moved closer, the growling grew louder and stronger. Not knowing what they might find, they continued after the sound.
They had to investigate where this growling was coming from, as it sounded very much like it belonged to a dog. On the other hand, they were in the woods so it could have been a number of different things.
21. Safe At Last!
The search teams and volunteers approached the sound of the growling when suddenly they spotted Kaydon. They were only about half a mile away from his home, so it turns out that he hadn’t gone too far the night before.
He must have lost his bearings and, paralyzed from fear, stayed where he was and didn’t move. However, what came as the biggest surprise to everyone, was that Kaydon wasn’t alone the entire time he was missing. There was someone by his side.
22. A Guardian Angel
Kaydon Leach was found around 3:30 p.m., about 22 hours since he was first noticed to be missing the evening before. When he was found, the growling turned out to be that of his faithful black-and-white terrier dog, Chula.
“The dog growled at the rescuers when they approached Kaydon, so the dog is a protector,” claimed BCSO Chief Deputy Jeff French. Indeed, Chula had done her best to keep Kaydon safe the entire night they were in the woods.
23. Health Risks
When Kaydon was found he didn’t look well. The rescuers asked him if he was okay and how he was feeling. He said, “Very cold.” His skin was purple and cold, as his gray sweatpants and black T-shirt couldn’t have been enough to keep him warm all night.
The search team also asked the boy where he lived and he gave the address. Once that was established, they told Kaydon they were taking him to safety immediately. He needed some medical attention while Chula dog also needed some attending to.
24. Not Out of the Woods Just Yet
Before first responders took Kaydon Leach home, they thought it was best to take him to Blount Memorial hospital first to get evaluated by medical personnel. They wanted to make sure he wasn’t suffering from hypothermia or any other medical issues.
His family was so relieved when they finally got to see their precious little Kaydon again. They also couldn’t believe how brave Chula had been through the whole ordeal. It sounded like something out of a book or a movie.
25. Giving Thanks
While Kaydon was being evaluated at Blount Memorial hospital, his family released a statement about their boy’s return. At first, no information was released about his condition or all the facts behind his disappearance, but they wanted to give thanks to the incredible rescue teams and local volunteers.
“We’re so thankful to everyone, from local law enforcement agencies to volunteers, who helped us find Kaydon. The amount of support we have received has been tremendous, even from people we don’t even know. We appreciate all our friends and neighbors, and ask for privacy at this time,” wrote Kaydon’s parents.
26. Online Celebration
News of Kaydon’s return was also met with much celebration by the media and on social media. “So glad he was found safe,” wrote one well-wisher on Facebook. Another person commented that they “had the little guy on my mind since I found out he was lost. Something he can tell his grandkids, thank God.”
Just as much as the community spent 22 agonizing hours searching for Kaydon, so too, did they express the same kind of joy when they heard he was found safe, along with his dog, on the news. It seemed to comfort them that he wasn’t alone through the night.
27. Shift of Emotions
The Top of the World community experienced a whirlwind of emotions for 22 hours, and the switch from concern to relief was felt by all. It reminded them of their own children, so everyone reached out as best they could.
It was also a huge moment for everyone and the entire county when Kaydon was found. They were praying to hear that he made it back safe and sound, and were so happy to hear the nightmare was finally over.
28. A Thankful Sheriff
The sheriff was also so thankful when Kaydon was found. He became really emotional when thanking everyone on local TV. “I want to thank all these men and women who spent the last 20 something hours out here in the dark, the cold, and the rain,” he said.
“We had the FBI, TBI, Blount County Sheriff’s Department, Blount County Fire Department, Blount County Rescue Squad. It was a team effort and we couldn’t have done it without the help,” he concluded. But there was someone else they had to thank as well.
29. Chula the Hero
The sheriff also thanked his deputy officer, Daniel Self, for helping Chula the dog. He held the dog and made sure she was okay, giving her water and some food. Everyone was so thrilled to know that Chula had been Kaydon’s guardian angel through the night.
The bond between a dog and human proves insurmountable, espeically during trying times. Chula was so heroic and never left Kaydon’s side for one minute. She is definitely the reason he made it through the cold and dark night all alone in the woods.
30. On Top of the World
The Top of the World community in Tennessee was definitely feeling on top of the world when Kaydon was found on that frantic Tuesday afternoon. Everything really did take a 180 from the moment he was found in the woods.
These kinds of things are never easy, but when you have a community filled with kind and caring people who help every step of the way, it certainly makes everything easier to deal with. We are all definitely ecstatic that Kaydon made it home safely.
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