'We never gave up': OPP officer describes finding missing toddler in woods near Kingston, Ont.
One of the officers who found Jude Leyton in a wooded area north of Kingston says it was a team effort to find the three-year-old boy.
The toddler went missing in South Frontenac around 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 28. He was found Wednesday afternoon near a beaver pond, following an extensive three-day search by Ontario Provincial Police and search and rescue volunteers.
The boy was ultimately found almost a kilometre away from the family cottage by a team of four OPP officers: Const. Greg Verney, Const. Peter Wrigglesworth, Const. Mike Ball, as well as Const. Scott McNames.
McNames says the group never lost hope they would bring the child home to his parents.
"We never gave up. No, we never gave up," said McNames in an interview with CTV News Ottawa on Thursday.
McNames says he was tagging a tree when he saw the boy's distinctive blue jacket.
"I said to Greg, 'there’s something blue up there,' and he ran up ahead, and I came up beside him and he said, 'it’s him,'" McNames says of the moment they found the boy.
Leyton was relatively unscathed, but thirsty says McNames, adding it was a wonderful outcome.
The 54-year-old says he’s been with the force for 25 years, and being a father himself, he never wanted to give up hope that the group could return Leyton to his parents safe. The group bringing back the toddler to his parents is a moment that stands out in his mind.
"They came down the trail. They came and met us before we got back to the cottage. And yeah, it was nice to give him to his mom and dad. Very nice moment," McNames says.
"Needless to say, they were very happy. We all were."
In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, the boy's grandfather, Chris Fisher, calls it a miracle that Leyton is "alive and well."
"He must have a very strong will to live to survive that horrendous rainy weather and cold on Sunday and Monday nights all alone in a very wild and treacherous area," Fisher wrote.
He thanked all the first responders involved in the search.
"These folks are to be commended for their tireless efforts and perseverance in all kinds of weather."
There were about 100 people involved in the search, rotating search shifts day after day. They involved underwater search crews, air units, and ground searches.
McNames says the terrain wasn’t easy.
"There were a lot of lakes, water features, swamps. It’s rocky, there’s cliffs there," he says. "Yeah, it’s tough terrain to walk through, let alone a three-year-old boy to get through."
McNames says in the more than a decade he’s been with the OPP search team, this is the most extensive search he’s been a part of, calling it a team effort.
He says he simply was placed by coordinators to be at the right place at the right time.
"There’s a lot of logistics involved. It takes a lot of people involved to have a successful outcome," stresses McNames.
"It’s a good feeling when it turns out this way. We don’t always get a lot of good news stories in policing, so this is one, we’re going to take it and enjoy it."
In a statement Thursday, South Frontenac Mayor Ron Vandewal thanked first responders and the volunteers.
"The amount of relief and joy felt by this community yesterday evening was vast and incredibly overwhelming.... We are forever grateful."
After the rescue Wednesday, Leyton was taken to Kingston General Hospital to be checked out by doctors. The family is asking for privacy at this time.