Search resumes for missing 3-year-old

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 ~ Updated 1:20 PM

ARCADIA, Mo. (AP) -- Rescue crews and volunteers frantically trying to find a 3-year-old boy missing for more than a day narrowed their search Tuesday to an area where one of the toddler's tennis shoes was found.

Joshua Childers wandered away from his home about 11:30 a.m. Monday. Police were called 45 minutes later. A search began that lasted through the night and into Tuesday. By Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of volunteers who showed up to help were mostly watching and waiting because so many professional emergency workers were assisting.

The best clue so far came Monday evening when a searcher found a tennis shoe. Joshua's parents confirmed he was wearing the shoe when he slipped away from home.

Madison County Sheriff David Lewis said the shoe was found nearly a mile from the family's mobile home that sits along rough, rural terrain in the Mark Twain National Forest. Rescue crews fanned out in the area where the shoe was discovered.

Lewis was confident the 35-pound boy was still alive.

"I don't know why he wouldn't be," Lewis said. "It wasn't that cold last night."

The FBI was helping with the search. So was the Missouri State Highway Patrol, searching by air, and the Missouri State Water Patrol, who brought in divers to check three small ponds within a mile or so from the boy's home. Police dogs sniffed through the dense woods surrounding the home.

Lewis said it would be easy for a small boy to get lost in those woods.

"You can't see 20 yards in front of you there," he said. "This is very rugged terrain, very rough, with thick underbrush."

Joshua's father works an overnight shift and was home sleeping on Monday morning. His mother was watching the child but was briefly distracted by a phone call. That's when the boy got out, wearing a dark blue and green T-shirt, pull-up diaper and tennis shoes.

The parents searched for about 45 minutes before calling police. It wasn't long before hundreds of volunteers showed up to help -- some on horses, some on donkeys, some on all-terrain vehicles or with their own dogs to help.

"It hits pretty close to home," said Randy Johnson, 31, of nearby Bismarck, a corrections officer at a prison. "When I heard about it I told my wife I had to come down here and do something."

In fact, it was perhaps too many people. Lewis decided to send volunteers out only in small groups, in part to keep them from getting lost or hurt, and partly to make sure he kept people fresh in case the search dragged on for days.

The weather was generally cooperative: Conditions were dry, and the temperature dipped only into the 50s overnight.

Lewis said the boy's father was among those searching the woods. The mother was waiting at home, in case the child returned.

Asked how they're holding up, the sheriff said, "They look a little dazed, actually."

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