- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

McGRADY, N.C. (AP) — The lost Boy Scout who survived on creek water for four days in the North Carolina mountains had told a friend before wandering off — apparently to try to hitchhike home — that he didn’t want to camp out anymore, a fellow Scout said yesterday.

Michael Auberry, 12, had slept in that morning while the other Scouts went hiking, but he seemed fine when they returned for lunch.

The boys thought he had just gone to clean his mess kit after eating, fellow Boy Scout Griffin Prufer told NBC’s “Today” show yesterday. But as the time wore on, they grew worried.

“I noticed my dad going into the woods yelling and screaming his name and blowing whistles and stuff,” Griffin said.

“I was scared,” he said. “[Michael] said something to his tent mate. He said he didn’t want to go on camping trips anywhere.”

That was early Saturday afternoon. The hours became days as scores of searchers with trained dogs and heat-sensing helicopters scoured the area for the missing Scout. Then, just before noon Tuesday, a search dog named Gandalf caught Michael’s scent about a mile from the Scout troop’s campsite.

Gandalf “popped his head three times” and there was Michael, walking along a stream, said Misha Marshall, the 2-year-old Shiloh shepherd’s trainer.

“He was a little dazed,” Miss Marshall said, and he was tired, hungry and dehydrated, but calm. The searchers help Michael out of the woods and gave him granola bars, crackers and water. Later, at a hospital with his parents, Michael ate chicken fingers and asked for cookies.

“He was homesick,” said his father, Kent Auberry. “He started walking, and at one point when he was walking he thought maybe he’d walk as far as the road and hitchhike home.”

Michael remained hospitalized yesterday, recovering from severe dehydration and exposure to cold. He had lost feeling in his fingers and toes by the time rescue workers found him Tuesday morning. But his father, who said his son was experiencing “frost nip,” said feeling was returning to his son’s fingers and doctors expected the same for his toes.

It wasn’t clear how soon he would be released. Meanwhile yesterday, a celebration service was held at the family’s church for friends who prayed and hoped for his safe return.

Mr. Auberry said Michael had been reluctant to go on the trip. The boy had asked his dad whether he would give him $5 if he didn’t have a good time. Mr. Auberry said he assured him that if he wasn’t happy on the trip, they would do something fun together the next day.

“He’s got a tremendous life spirit,” Mr. Auberry said, adding that Michael “wants to thank Gandalf especially — even though he ate the peanut butter crackers they gave him.”

Mr. Auberry said his son was even cracking a few jokes.

“Just the difference between yesterday and today, Michael is coming back to us,” Mr. Auberry said. Riding down the mountain in an ambulance with his parents, the boy learned his 8-year-old sister had tracked the search and rescue effort for her older brother by watching television news reports.

Mr. Auberry said his son immediately asked, “Did you TiVo it?”

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