A faint cry led a sheriff’s deputy to a pile of sticks and debris in the woods of western Montana. There, the deputy, part of a search-and-rescue team, discovered a 5-month-old infant buried face down, but still alive.
“It was just a whimper,” Deputy Ross Jessop said, describing the sound he heard.
The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office said that the boy, clothed only in a wet and soiled onesie, had been in the wilderness for at least nine hours, surviving a chilly night when temperatures dipped to about 46 degrees, before being discovered early on Sunday.
“This is what we call a miracle,” the sheriff’s office said.
Francis Carlton Crowley, 32, who had been caring for the infant since early Saturday, was charged with two felonies: assault on a minor under 36 months, and criminal endangerment.
He was being held in jail with bail set at $200,000.
During a court hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Crowley, who appeared from jail by video, broke down as the charges against him were read, said that he loved the child and begged the judge not to take him away, The Associated Press reported.
According to The A.P., sheriff’s officials said that Mr. Crowley had been living with the boy’s mother and the child in a camp near the hot springs in Lolo National Forest.
After the baby was found, he was treated for dehydration and scrapes and bruises. On the way to the hospital, he began “coughing up small sticks.”
But over all, he was in good health, the sheriff’s office said on Tuesday.
Deputies were called to the Lolo Hot Springs area late Saturday to investigate reports that a man was acting strangely, threatening people and claiming to have a gun.
When they arrived at the hot springs, about 30 miles west of Missoula, law enforcement officers spoke with numerous witnesses, including the baby’s mother, and learned that Mr. Crowley had been driving with the baby in the car when he was involved in a crash.
Mr. Crowley appeared and told the officers that he would direct them to the baby’s location. But it became clear that he would be unable to do so.
“Officers quickly ascertained that he was under the influence of dangerous drugs, based on his behavior and admissions to ingesting methamphetamine and bath salts,” the affidavit states.
He gave conflicting and false statements about where the baby might be, including saying that “the baby was laying on the side of the road, and the baby had died and he had buried him in the mountains.”
At one point, according to the affidavit, he said he had begun walking with the baby after the crash, but eventually left him because he was heavy.
Search-and-rescue teams from the sheriff’s office, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Montana Highway Patrol fanned out in a ground search.
For more than six hours, they combed the woods.
They followed a game trail where many small trees had been damaged. And then they found a blue Chevy Corsica crashed into a tree, and a trail of personal items, including baby formula, a diaper bag, children’s trivia cards and a baby carrier.
Deputy Jessop’s portable radio had run out of battery, but he had a hunch that he should hike up a nearby hill and look there. A Forest Service officer, Nick Scholz, agreed to join him.
Amid the silence, they heard faint cries and followed the sound. They discovered the baby in a heavily wooded area on private property, at about 2:30 a.m.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Deputy Jessop said the baby was alert but exhausted, unable to cry more.
“It was pretty amazing.” he said.
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