His parents may never know how their autistic son survived a week missing in dense Wisconsin woods. "He's never spoken in the past tense," his dad said.
Their prayers have been answered, but their questions may never be.
For now, it's enough for Bruce and Linda Kennedy to know that their 25-year-old son is alive and recovering as well as can be expected after a week lost in the Wisconsin woods without critical medication.
Keith Kennedy's autism makes it unlikely he will ever explain how he went missing from a camp for people with special needs and was found Sunday night roughly a mile away, naked, dehydrated and covered with ticks. The long search for him, which drew hundreds of volunteers, was just about to be scaled back.
"We're not anticipating him communicating anything about this," Bruce Kennedy said Monday. "He's never spoken in the past tense."
Adding another unusual step to an already extraordinary search and rescue mission, Burnett County officials sent out a dog team Monday to attempt to retrace Keith Kennedy's footsteps. Burnett County Chief Deputy Donald Taylor said a report is expected today.
"Being without food or water, it's amazing that he's still alive," said Dr. Timothy Whelan. "I don't think he had days left ... just hours."
"It would be fascinating to follow him on whatever journey he went," Bruce Kennedy said. "I think he bit off more than he could chew. I think he got overwhelmed and he lost his bearings and somehow landed in a horrible spot.
"But maybe we'll never know."
At a news conference on Monday, Whelan said it is too early to determine the extent of the damage to Keith Kennedy's kidneys, but he said he expected him to recover "tremendously well."
The young man, who received a kidney transplant in 1995, had been without his anti-rejection medication for over a week. Doctors feared his kidneys could shut down. He was found severely dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, arriving at the intensive care unit Sunday night with a body temperature of 84 degrees.
"I personally believe there's a very high likelihood that he's going to do tremendously well, but we just don't know yet," Whelan said.
Though Keith Kennedy did not immediately require dialysis, Whelan said he may need it in the near future. He was able to urinate and his kidneys showed no sign of having shut down.
Whelan said he did not know if Kennedy ate or drank anything in the woods, though his mother said he would have known enough to drink from a stream if he was able. Though his doctor could not quantify how much weight he had lost, his parents said he looked much skinnier.
Flipped upside down
The emotional swings of the weeklong search were wearing on Linda Kennedy just before she learned to believe in miracles.
"It is my definition of hell on Earth; it was a nightmare that just wouldn't end. It's just so incredible how everything came together," she said.
With hope, but without expectations, Sunday's volunteers boarded buses, pickup trucks and ATVs to resume the search. The family's faint optimism had become guarded. "The reality" that Keith may have died had begun to sink in. "I'm coming more to a point of acceptance of what will be will be," Linda Kennedy said mere hours before he was found.
As the family sat underneath a tent considering the next step, someone screamed Linda's name. Almost exactly a week after Keith was reported missing, a St. Paul fireman had stumbled upon him, curled in the fetal position near a creek roughly a mile west of Trade Lake Camp.
In what she said felt like a whirlwind, she was escorted to a squad car that took her to the rescue site.
"It was overwhelming," Linda Kennedy said Monday. "We didn't even know until we were en route if he had been found dead or alive."
They saw their son lying on a stretcher being prepared to be loaded into a helicopter that would take him to the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.
"He's in shock and his eyes are kind of shaking," Linda Kennedy said minutes later. "He's really weak and it was hard to see him in that state."
"He really was filthy and his eyes were glazed and he was moving slowly," Bruce Kennedy told reporters Monday. "But he attended to me when I spoke to him ... and I knew he was listening to me."
At the hospital Sunday night, the Kennedys consulted with doctors, saw their son and waited by his side. It was a different kind of waiting, one easier for them to cope with.
"We never gave up hope. I guess you could say this was the 11th hour," Linda Kennedy said. "We prayed for a miracle and that is what happened."
Rodrigo Zamith • 612-673-4895