A search for a 4-year-old girl who wandered into a cornfield near Kenyon, Minn., went into the early morning hours Wednesday before she was found, unharmed, by three fathers who were among scores of searchers.
The girl, Sawyer Ruby Rose Hanson, was reported missing at 7:16 p.m. Tuesday, according to Kenyon Volunteer Fire Department Chief Scott Miner. A 911 call from the Hanson family reported that Sawyer was last seen outside her home just northwest of Kenyon, a community of about 1,800 people some 60 miles south of the Twin Cities.
The girl is known to chase after cats, and authorities believe she followed one into the cornfield when she went missing.
Fathers Devon Larish, Keith Leonardo and Nate Nielsen learned about the search late Tuesday night when someone posted it live on Facebook. The three friends live in communities within an hour of Kenyon and each have daughters the same age as Sawyer, said Leonardo.
“It all kind of hit home,” he said.
They met up and then piled into Nielsen’s pickup truck to search the area where the girl was last seen. By the time they arrived, some 100 firefighters, police, sheriff’s deputies and other officials were searching the cornfields near Hanson’s home, said Nielsen.
“There were people spread out pretty much in every field we saw,” he said.
Miner said volunteers and firefighters walked the fields at an arm’s length from each other. The standing corn was warm and humid and offered some protection from a strong wind that had come up, said Miner. The wind made it hard to hear, and the fields were not planted in straight rows, making it difficult to see.
Leonardo, Nielsen and Larish said they drove gravel roads near the spot where Sawyer disappeared, searching driveways and ditches with flashlights and a large spotlight Nielsen had in the truck. After three hours they felt like they were just spinning their wheels, doing nothing, when about a third of a mile north of the Hansons' home they spotted Sawyer.
“She was just standing there, like a deer in the headlights,” said Leonardo. The girl was about 20 yards from the road, next to a stand of corn.
The fathers leapt from the truck and scooped her up, wrapping her in a blanket.
“She didn’t say one thing,” said Leonardo.
“We were excited and nervous and scared all at the same time,” said Leonardo. I was shaking so bad I couldn’t even pick up the phone to call her dad.”
They drove her back to the family’s house and Larish handed Sawyer to her father, who broke down. It was almost 2 a.m. when authorities called off the search and announced that the girl had been found.
Nielsen, back to work at Owatonna Motor Company on Wednesday, said he was glad they got lucky.
“If we were 10 seconds earlier or later she could have ducked right back in the corn and we never would have seen her,” he said.