MACCLENNY, Fla. – A Baker County woman called it an answer to prayer: Her 8-year-old son with autism missing since midday Saturday was found in dense woods Monday afternoon, scratched up but alive.
Peyton Blodgett was taken to Frasier Memorial Hospital in Macclenny, then was transferred to Wolfson Children's Hospital for a thorough evaluation. A hospital spokeswoman said he was admitted to intensive care in critical condition.
Monday night, Peyton's mother, Brittany Blodgett, said her son is suffering from severe kidney problems after his time in the woods. She said his issues can likely be treated at the hospital, but it's possible he could need a kidney transplant.
She said she's confident Peyton can make a fully recovery, though, because he's a fighter.
"As we've seen, Peyton's pretty strong, and he's going to do it, because he always does it. But what I want to say is thank you for everything you did. If you weren't there, you were praying, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, God. Thank you, everybody. He's fine. Now what you need to do is the same thing you were doing: pray, pray, pray for his little kidneys, because he's strong. We're strong," Brittany Blodgett said. "Tonight, instead of him sleeping in the woods, he's going to be sleeping with his mommy and his daddy, so thank you, Jesus. Thank you, community. Thank you, everybody. And don't stop now just because he's here because he's out of the woods, but he's not out of the woodworks."
Brittany Blodgett let out a hoot Monday afternoon when told by deputies her boy was found, then rushed over to some of those who had come out to help search and said, "Thank you everybody, so much."
Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson said the boy was found under a bush about 700 feet into the dense woods behind the home where he was last seen just over 48 hours earlier.
Dobson said a deputy flying in a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission helicopter with pilot Joe Johnson spotted the boy in dense woods and alerted deputies on the ground.
"What caught my eye was his blue jeans. He didn't move," said Deputy Clements Leo, who spotted the boy from the air. "I asked the pilot if he could get a little bit lower to see if he would move, and he didn't move at all. We're very relieved to find him and that he's alive."
Dobson said Peyton couldn't walk and was very limp and dehydrated, but was not unconscious at all, was moving and had his eyes open.
"It's been a tough three days," Dobson said while shedding tears himself.
Two hours later, outside the hospital, Brittany Blodgett said Peyton was cut up head to toe, but acting like himself.
"(It) looks like someone stuck him in bushes and scratched him up. He's not bleeding. He does little things to tell me he's OK and asks, 'Am I OK?"
Deputy Leo, who has been with the Sheriff's Office for three years, said he didn't feel like a hero. But he admitted he and a few other deputies stayed and kept searching the last two nights after the search was suspended for darkness because, "You know, we're fathers, so we wanted to stay and look for him."
"We are certainly pleased," Dobson said, praising the support his Sheriff's Office had from all the agencies involved. "Without them, we would not be here today; we would not be standing here with the results that we have."
Boy disappears from Macclenny about noon Saturday
A Florida Missing Child Alert was issued Saturday evening for the boy, who was last seen about noon Saturday in his grandmother's house on South State Road 121, where he and his 7-year-old sister were staying while he parents went to Gainesville.
By Monday morning, 11 agencies had joined the Baker County Sheriff's Office in the search, including the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office helicopter and dive team, Jacksonville Fire-Rescue's search dogs, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and FBI.
The Sheriff's Office initially resisted efforts for volunteers to join the effort, but changed its position after an impassioned plea from Peyton's mother on Monday morning.
Brittany Blodgett told News4Jax early Monday morning that she was angry the authorities had not let her, her family and members of the community into the woods to assist in the search. But after volunteers are allowed, Blodgett asked the community for help.
"Please, please, please, please. Peyton needs you," she said. "Today will be three days. He's 42 pounds and 8 years old. He can't be out there that long."
By midday, hundreds of people showed up to help.
"And I don't know if everybody knows or not, but I am 100 percent sure that he has not been picked up by any strangers. He didn't make it to the road because there were two adults and his sister out in the yard. ... I know he's in the woods. He's not doing good back there, obviously, because it's been two days, but he's back there and he's stuck and we need to find him."
Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, a pediatrician with UF Health Jacksonville, said autistic children have communication disorders and issues related to social interactions, so Peyton may have hidden from people looking for him and calling his name.
Dobson said Peyton's father was with those searching wooded areas near where the boy was last seen because he might be able to point out places Peyton would hide.
"He may not be communicative," Goldhagen said. "He will pick up on different signs and cues that are different from other children. This is a critical, critical issue for this search team."