Trevor Vetort shows the spot near Highway M-35 where he found a toddler sitting and crying in the woods Wednesday. Vetort found the boy while running at J.W. Wells State Park near Cedar River. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Trevor Vetort shows the spot near Highway M-35 where he found a toddler sitting and crying in the woods Wednesday. Vetort found the boy while running at J.W. Wells State Park near Cedar River.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
CEDAR RIVER - A last-minute decision by Trevor Vetort to get a morning run in before he headed off to class Wednesday may have saved the life of a 2-year-old boy.
Vetort, 18, runs at J.W. Wells State Park, which is close to his home on County Road G-12 in Cedar River. Wednesday, he almost decided against it.
"Usually I run every other day and I wasn't going to go because of the weather, but I decided to go," he said.
While on his run through the old growth trail he takes in the park, he almost missed the toddler sitting in the leaves near the path.
"The trail is only about 20 yards off the highway (M-35) through a cedar swamp," he said. "There's a line of trees between the trail and the highway. I got to the corner where it meets close to the highway and he was sitting on the grass and leaves.
"I almost ran right up on him - then I heard him crying. It kinda freaked me out when I (saw) him. He wanted me to pick him up - he was crying 'mommy.'"
Vetort picked up the small child and carried him to the park office around 11. The office is about a mile and a half away.
Wednesday morning was dreary, wet and cold after an early rainstorm passed through. Temperatures in the woods were in the mid 40s.
"It wasn't raining at the time, but there was water dripping from the trees on me when I was running and he was a little damp," Vetort said about the toddler.
The child was wearing a hat, boots, a shirt and pants - but no jacket. Vetort said he was cold and scared, but couldn't speak well enough to say who he was or where he was from.
"He had to have been there for a while, he was scared, but he wanted me to pick him up," Vetort said.
The area is covered in growing and fallen trees and is not regularly checked by the rangers, said Vetort, who is a part-time ranger at Wells currently on layoff.
"He looked like he might be with someone camping," Vetort said, and he took the child to the office and then to a nearby toilet building where rangers were working.
"They didn't believe me at first when I said I found him in the woods alone," Vetort said. The rangers verified that no one was camping in the park.
The park rangers called the Menominee County Sheriff's Department to report the incident. At this point, no one knew who the child was - and no child had been reported missing.
Menominee County Sheriff Kenny Marks said that Cpl. Bob Menacher was on duty in the area, and he was told to check a residence in Cedar River for the mother of the child.
"There is a woman who recently moved back to the area and I thought she might be the mother," Marks said.
When Menacher arrived at the residence where Charleen Elane Marks, 29, was staying, located near the north end of the park acreage, he found her and several other people looking in the yard for the child.
"The story she told the deputy is that he wandered off and must have lost his coat in the woods," Sheriff Marks said.
The mother did not indicate how long the child had been missing and had not called 911.
Sheriff Marks said that the child was returned to his mother, but the case remains under investigation by his department and the Department of Human Services, which was notified.
"The child was wandering through the woods on a cold, dark, damp, nasty day in a place with big cats, bear, wolves ..." said Sheriff Marks. "He was upset, and wasn't clean - and he soiled himself - he appeared very upset. He was lost on a muddy trail in a rustic area of the forest. It had to be scary. Luckily, he was found."
Vetort, who is familiar with the park and the location of the residence where the boy and his mother are staying, estimated the child was at least a mile from his home when he came across him.
The woman has two other children who are both of school age, Sheriff Marks said. She is a former resident of the county who recently moved back to the Cedar River area.
"The missing piece of the puzzle is when he (the child) went missing," Marks said. "We will get to the bottom of it."
Vetort, who attends Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, didn't make it to class after all on Wednesday. After his run, he talked with sheriff's deputies for some time before he was able to go home and clean up from the run he almost didn't take.
"It's not a trail used by many people during the season, and no one is on it this time of year," he said of the quiet path in the woods. "It just doesn't happen that a 2-year-old is found wandering around that area."