Missing Utah teen was hiding from searchers, sheriff says
Andre Duran just got lost going to the bathroom.
That's what he told the men who found him after he had been missing for four days in the mountains around Daggett County's Spirit Lake. Since the 14-year-old walked away from a troubled-youth program outing Thursday morning, searchers from five counties combed the rugged area until they found him Sunday evening in a makeshift lean-to in the Hickerson Park area of the Spirit Lake drainage.
The spot is about 5 miles from the lake where the teen went missing.
He was hungry, thirsty and shoeless, with holes in the bottoms of his black socks, but otherwise alright, said Daggett County Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen.
"I think he exceeded my expectations actually in terms of his health," Jorgensen said. "I was shocked."
Two Daggett County Search and Rescue team members on horseback found Duran's lean-to and hollered at him twice before he came out, Jorgensen said. Searchers had been to the area multiple times in the past four days, but it was evident Duran was hiding from them, Jorgensen added.
The rescuers let him ride one of their horses and took him about a mile to the other emergency responders. He was then taken to a Vernal hospital and has since been released to a Juvenile Justice Services facility. He could face charges for leaving state custody, said Elizabeth Sollis, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services.
"We're overly ecstatic that he was found," said Duran's mother Kelly Harris. Duran had been in a fight with another boy in the program on July 26 and received a head injury, according to Harris. Duran did not suffer a concussion, but Harris wonders if he was experiencing some delayed disorientation when he got lost.
He would stay in the lean-to at night and, during the hotter parts of the day, venture out sometimes to find water, she said.
Eventually his throat became hoarse, and he could only say a few words to the men who found him, said Harris,who as of Monday afternoonhad not had a chance to talk to her son.
Between the fight and Duran's wandering off, Harris said she expected better supervision. She intends to petition the court that he be placed in another program or be sent home and attend an out-patient therapy program.
"He's left in the hands of the court, but her feedback and concern is definitely of interest to them," Sollis said.
To the best of her knowledge, Sollis said that boys in the program have run before, but never has their disappearance been this serious.
"What made this one different is that he was in the Uintahs and he didn't have any shoes, he didn't have anything," she said. The eight teens at the camp were all required to surrender their shoes to the two staff members as a way to discourage runaways.
The human services department, its licensing office and juvenile justice services are all conducting investigations into the incident to find out how Duran got away and how the program can prevent a repeat episode. Sollis, who could not comment on what the investigations have uncovered so far, said she expects the probes to take at least two weeks.
The Division of Child and Family Services would only get involved if there is a referral of abuse or neglect against Duran, Sollis said.
"It would depend on the circumstances surrounding [his case] â¦ but [it seems to be] a supervision issue," she said.
Since about mid-July, Duran had been in a state-licensed behavioral program called Journey for boys ages 13 to 18 specifically, at the program's "moderate risk" location at Impact Ranch in Mona. Journey has been licensed with the state for seven years without any conditional suspensions or revocations, and the licensor reports that the program has not had any significant issues that were not resolved immediately in at least the past four years, Sollis said.
Participants of the program stay four to six months on average, taking on-site classes and participating in work projects for the 12-acre, Mona-area ranch and for the U.S. Forest Service. Behavioral therapy sessions, regular hikes and backpacking trips also are part of the program.