Local News

Chatham County Brother, Sister Safe At Home After Frightening Ordeal

Posted October 3, 2003

— Two Chatham County children who had been missing since Thursday were back home Friday night. The 8-year-old boy and his 5-year sister spent Thursday night in the woods after wandering away from their yard and getting lost.

Eight-year-old Preston Wilson and his 5-year-old sister, Kimberly Ellis, were found about a mile from their home in dense woods by two men on horseback who were part of a 200-person search team.

The men, Jerry Guernsey and Jonathan Rachels, had come to the search area Friday morning with their horses from Pinehurst and Sanford.

Guernsey and Rachels said they had been searching on a path along the woods behind the children's home but, after finding no evidence of the children, decided to stray from the path and head into the woods. They said they saw the children about 10 minutes later, shortly before 11 a.m.

"They were cold, scared and ready to get home," Guernsey said. "They were as happy to see us as we were to see them."

Rachels said the children were excited about seeing horses and "wanted to go for a ride." The men gave the children a ride back to the house.

"I said: 'Are you Preston?'" Rachels said. "He said: 'Yes.' I said: 'Well, hop on. Everybody's looking for you.'"

The horses provided an advantage because they gave the men a higher, clearer view of the dense woods. But the men said even the horses had difficulty walking through the area, getting cuts and scrapes on their legs.

Back home Friday after a trip to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where they checked out O.K., Preston said Kimberly had run into the woods and that he went after her. The two got lost trying to find their way back.

Police and vounteers looked for 19 hours for the children, beginning Thursday night, in a search that included a K-9 unit, heat-sensor lights and a Highway Patrol helicopter.

"They said that they tried to sleep while they were out there," said Dr. Kyri Shomaker, who treated the children at the hospital. "They lied down in the pine straw and tried to get comfortable. They had some deer and squirrel disturb them, but that was all."

Shomaker said the kids also said they were hungry and asked for cookies and milk.

The children's mother, Belinda Wilson, said Preston and Kimberly huddled together, shared a shirt, a pair of shoes and socks to keep from getting cold. The temperature Thursday night dipped into the 30's.

"They are a lot smarter than I thought for kids in that situation," Belinda Wilson said.

Guernsey and Rachels said the children appeared to be all right when they were discovered Friday morning but complained of being cold. Kimberly was said to be sitting on the ground when the men rode up, while Preston was on his feet waving at the men.

After searchers had been unable to find the children Thursday night, a flood of volunteers arrived at the house Friday morning to help search. They moved on foot, with ATVs and on horseback.

Pittsboro police also requested that an Amber Alert be broadcast. The alert was officially put into effect about 9:33 a.m. Friday.

It was only the second Amber Alert in North Carolina. iBut it did not work as smoothly as itt was supposed to. A generic civil emergency message was broadcast over Time Warner Cable, and the audio was garbled. People did not know what the emergency was and flooded 911 centers around region with concerned phone calls.

WRAL clarified the alert with a crawl at the bottom of the screen, saying that two children were missing and that authorities wanted anyone with information to call. The TV station also aired a special report.

Time Warner officials said the generic message they aired came to them that way from the state. They said they were investigating why the audio did not work properly.

Officials at the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety said they followed the Federal Communications Commission rules for sending the message, because not all stations have updated equipment to receive an official Amber Alert message. The message included audio when it was issued from the N.C. Emergency Operations Center, and an effort will be made to determine why the audio was garbled.

The Department of Crime Control and Public Safety said stations did the appropriate thing by following the alert message with a text crawl to explain what the alert was about.

Guernsey and Rachels, the "heroes on horseback," were greeted with a lot of applause as they returned from the woods after finding the children. They said they will keep in touch with the family and come back to the children's home because they still owe Preston and Kimberly a horseback ride.


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