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Found as Hope Nearly Lost

Missing four days in Utah's mountains, the Scout, 11, might have hidden from rescuers.

June 23, 2005|J. Michael Kennedy | Times Staff Writer

BOUNTIFUL, Utah — There were moments, terrible moments, when Jody Hawkins thought that her son could not have survived.

The terrain was too rugged. In four days of combing the Uinta Mountains for Brennan Hawkins, thousands of searchers hadn't come across a clue. It was as if the 11-year-old had vanished.

What hope Brennan's mother did hold onto came from what had not happened: Instead of the typically biting nighttime chill, the weather had been warm, in the 50s. The predicted rain held back, giving rescuers a chance to cover more ground.

On Tuesday, a Salt Lake City house painter named Forrest Nunley opted to take the day off and join in the search.

After driving his all-terrain vehicle far into the backcountry around Lily Lake, Nunley was surprised to see Brennan standing in a trail about five miles from his Scout camp, cold and dehydrated but apparently unhurt.

On Wednesday, Brennan was home with his family here in Bountiful, a small community north of Salt Lake City. In the middle of the afternoon, the wide-eyed boy stood in front of television cameras but decided to let his parents and older brother do the talking.

"He's doing very well," said Brennan's father, Toby Hawkins. "He's very tired, but playing with his brothers and friends."

The drama began Friday at a Scout camp on the east fork of the Bear River. Brennan, a Cub Scout, was practicing wall climbing when the dinner bell sounded. A friend went back to camp, but Brennan apparently became disoriented and walked the wrong way.

He was reported missing a short time later, and the search began.

Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said Brennan might have been hiding from rescuers because he had been taught not to talk to strangers.

"He didn't approach anyone because he thought he might be abducted," Edmunds said. "We were just baffled about how we weren't finding him."

A number of Scouts have become lost in the Utah wilderness over the years. Most have been found easily.

But last year, a 12-year-old boy named Garrett Bardsley disappeared and was never found.

Jody Hawkins said she was at the search command post Tuesday when she was told to go to a nearby dirt road. She waited alone, fearing the worst. Then she was told that her son was alive and well.

Nunley told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City that when he came upon the boy and asked for his name, "Brennan" was the reply.

The boy was flown to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, where he was treated for mild dehydration, a bruised ankle and chapped lips, and released a few hours later.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jody Hawkins was sitting on the back porch of the family's tidy brick house.

Out front was a media mob scene, television cameras lining the street.

Just down the way, a huge banner said: "Welcome Brennan. The Heavens are Open." The front yard was festooned with yellow balloons.

Hawkins said her shy boy always tucked his legs under a T-shirt while he ate breakfast. He did the same thing in the wilderness, she said, for warmth.

"He told me it was freezing at night," she said as friends and relatives went in and out of the house. "He told me his biggest fear was to be stolen. In this situation, that was a detriment to him." She said the searchers were mostly rough-looking men who drove ATVs for hours, returning at the end of the day with tears in their eyes because they had not been able to find Brennan.

"But I told them they had helped by narrowing down where Brennan wasn't," she said.

As one day extended into the next without a trace of Brennan, Hawkins said, her confidence that he was still alive began to flag.

She said her instincts told her that Brennan had not been kidnapped.

"I didn't know if he was alive, but I knew no one was harming him," she said, sipping from a bottle of water.

Hawkins said her family's Mormon faith had helped sustain them during the crisis. She said that the same was true for many of those who combed the wilderness.

Sheriff Edmunds said that on Father's Day, more than 3,000 volunteers showed up to help, some of them driving hundreds of miles to join the search.

"It's pretty typical of Utah," he said. "It's amazing how many people came out of the woodwork."

Jody Hawkins said the lack of rain was a sign that Brennan was being looked after while he wandered the mountains of northern Utah.

Each day, she said, forecasters predicted rain. And each day storm clouds gathered, but no rain fell.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, with Brennan safe, the storm clouds again began to form.

"Within a half-hour it was pouring," she said. "You could barely see out the windshield."

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