300 Volunteers save a life
By David Arny
After spending nearly 24 hours alone in rough country, including a long, frigid night with temperatures in the low 40s, eight-year-old Pipe Creek resident Anthony Esquivel was rescued at 5:44 pm Monday, April 15 - over a mile and a half from his home.
A large group of volunteers and well wishers erupted into cheers as EMS personnel stopped an ambulance briefly and opened its rear doors in order to give the crowd a glimpse of the child before transporting him to Methodist Childrens Hospital in San Antonio. Esquivel appeared exhausted and slightly overwhelmed by the attention, but otherwise in good condition.
The incident began Sunday evening when Anthony wandered away from his foster family’s home about 6 pm. He was wearing a blue T-shirt and beige camo pants and accompanied by his foster sister Michaela. The girl was found by her anxious parents a short time later - alone and shoeless with her feet and legs covered with mud. Her condition led authorities to suspect the children had wandered near water.
As darkness fell, deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff’s Department, along with Sheriff Weldon Tucker, State Troopers Damon Derr and Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Dan Butts from Devine, as well as concerned neighbors and Anthony’s foster dad, Ken Childers, scoured the surrounding countryside while temperatures dropped precipitously.
At approximately 8 pm, a statewide call went out for search and rescue teams to help locate the boy. In a matter of hours, responding units poured into a makeshift command center near the entrance of the Quirk Ranch on New Northrup Road.
The situation was especially tense during the search and rescue operation for several reasons. Anthony was born with Down’s Syndrome and suffers from asthma which requires multiple daily respiratory treatments. The area surrounding his home off Bear Springs Road includes a number of lakes, streams and rocky ravines. In addition, thick brush and ash juniper rendered the DPS helicopters’ infrared cameras unable to detect a subject’s body heat.
The Torres State Prison in Hondo sent four mounted officers with bloodhounds. Nine members of the Travis County Search and Rescue unit accompanied by seven air-scent dogs and four volunteers from the College Station Search Dog Team arrived before dawn. Other search and rescue personnel included five officers and two tracking dogs from the US Border Patrol, members of the Bexar County Mounted Patrol, volunteers from the Heidi Search Center in San Antonio, Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens Mark Dorrough and Jeff Carter and a small army of volunteer firefighters from Pipe Creek, Bandera, Tarpley, Medina, Castle Lake, Lake Shore and Medina Lake.
All converged near the search area as a DPS helicopter flew overhead. EMS technicians and paramedics from Pipe Creek and Bandera stayed on duty throughout the night and following day.
Bandera County Fire Marshal Ralph Dresser acted as emergency management coordinator for various entities and Pipe Creek VFD Chief Rick Martin, served as incident commander for the operation.
At mid-day Monday, Dresser’s assessment of the situation was grim but realistic. He estimated the child’s chances of being found alive at “less than one per cent,” considering his age, health problems and the previous night’s brisk temperatures. After Anthony’s successful rescue, Dresser acknowledged the boy had “defied all the odds,” by emerging from the ordeal relatively unscathed.
A diver from Bandera VFD spent the day searching several lakes in the area as volunteers arrived on foot, horseback and all-terrain vehicles. The DPS dispatched a third helicopter from Austin.
Trooper Glenn Scales relieved Trooper Damon Derr. On the first pass over terrain scrutinized repeatedly since dawn from ground and air, a chopper crew member saw a small shape emerge from beneath some vegetation and, apparently, wave at the helicopter. Anthony had been found.
Seachers had underestimated the boy’s motor skills and mobility. He was located at the top of a ridge with a steeply sloping, rocky approach which Game Warden Dorrough said took rescuers more than 20 minutes to climb. The route between the boy’s home and the spot where he was found measured just under two miles and involved crossing a stream twice, which the child probably did at night.
According to Anthony’s foster mom, Linda Childers, emergency room physicians “went over Anthony with a fine tooth comb“ at Methodist Hospital Monday evening. They advised her simply to take care of his sunburn and give him plenty of fluids. He was released just after 9:30 pm and back home a short time later.
Childers was “blown away” by the community’s response to her foster son’s disappearance. “This just shows what kind of people live here,” said Childers. She also credited Tucker, Dresser, the Martin family and the DPS troopers with keeping her informed of developments every step of the way.
“I was completely overwhelmed by the generosity, care and concern of all these people - hundreds of whom had set aside their jobs and studies to look for a little boy most of them had never even met,” she said.
In his typical modest fashion, Dresser downplayed his role in the incident, saying, “It was a great team effort. I want to extend my warmest, most sincere thanks to everyone involved, whether they were part of an agency or just a concerned individual. I want to thank everyone for their prayers. And, if anyone felt unappreciated, that simply couldn’t be further from the truth.”