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Nearly 45 hours after disappearing, Randall Chesser was found alive, next to a creek off of Coulter Lane, lying on the ground, roughly three miles from his home.
The seven-year-old autistic boy from Willisburg endured rain, wind and storms that started on Sunday night and lasted into Monday morning.
“We praise God for just the fact that we found him, and found him alive and he seems to be healthy,” John Settles, Washington County judge/executive, said.
Fortunately, Chesser remained unscathed by the rough terrain that he wandered over.
“No cuts or bruises. None whatsoever,” Kevin Devine, Washington County’s director of emergency management, said.
Chesser was thirsty, hungry, wet and exhausted, however.
“He had little cowboy boots on with spurs on them,” Settles said. “When they took them off, they poured water out of them. That’s how wet he was.”
Chesser was found by Chris Goodlett and Monte Kelly, members of the Mercer County Fire Department.
“He was laying on the ground when they found him,” Devine said. “When they asked him to respond to them, he did respond and that’s how they located him.”
Devine said Goodlett and Kelly had water for Chesser, and he later requested crackers.
Chesser was transported via ambulance to the Lebanon-Springfield airport and then flown to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville.
“He was flown just as a precaution to be checked out,” Devine said. “Since he had been out there for so long, he needed to be hydrated and everything in the hospital, and (to) be checked out completely.”
Chesser disappeared from his residence at 4482 Lawrenceburg Rd. in Willisburg on Sept. 24 around 6 p.m., according to the Kentucky State Police.
After searching for several hours, the family contacted the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.
According to a press release from Kentucky State Police (KSP), the sheriff’s department asked KSP to handle the investigation at 1:18 a.m. on Sunday.
Search parties came from all over to search every nook and cranny in Willisburg.
Volunteers and emergency personnel hit the ground and air, searching on foot, horseback, ATV, helicopter and automobile.
An Amber Alert was never issued because KSP never received any information indicating that Chesser had been abducted.
Police asked that any hunters in possession of a trail camera near Rock Run Creek to review footage and contact state police if information became available.
When weather turned inclement on Sunday night and into Monday morning, the search parties were not deterred. Crews hit the ground at daybreak to continue searching for Randall. Around 60 state police cadets were called on to help the search party on Monday.
“The thing for us is, if Randall is out there in the water and the rain, then we need to be, too,” TFC Billy Gregory said at noon on Monday, before Chesser was found. “That doesn’t mean that we get a break because it’s raining.”
Volunteers and officials didn’t get a break, either.
“It’s very rough terrain,” Devine said. “These searchers have went through tremendous things. They came out here with pant legs ripped off of them and bleeding, scratches on their arms.”
Besides rough terrain and bad weather, Chesser is non-verbal, which presented a new challenge to searchers.
“Our biggest thing with him is that he might not have hollered at us if he heard voices,” Devine said. “He might not have, and we might not have known it at the time, so that’s the reason why we had to do a very thorough search to do that.”
The search area was broadened on Monday, and The Center for Missing and Exploited Children joined the fray.
KSP issued a reverse 911 call to residences within a 27-mile radius on Sunday night. The call went out to more than 450 homes.
During an interview earlier in the day, Gregory encouraged those who lived in the area to actively search for Chesser.
“That doesn’t mean that they have to get out and be a part of a search party, but it does mean that maybe they can get out of their house and look around their outbuilding,” he said. “Check your vehicles. Check driveway tiles. Any place where a small, seven-year-old slight kid could crawl into and curl up because he’s hungry and cold and scared.”
More than 250 people were searching on Monday, which included volunteers and emergency personnel.
Settles estimated that more than 500 volunteers helped in the search for Chesser.
“We tried to keep track (of volunteers) and we listed everyone,” Settles said. “We tried to do it by the book. A lot of people came in without us knowing that they were there. There will never be an exact number, but there are well over 500, not counting emergency personnel.”
Gregory, Settles, Devine and many others commented on the effort put forth by the community.
A television reporter asked Devine what he learned from this experience.
“That we live in a community that really is close knit and tight, and when you need people for things, they will really help out,” he said. “We knew we had a good community, but this makes it even better.”
Capt. James Stephens, post commander of Kentucky State Police Post 15 in Columbia, also noticed the hard work by those searching for Chesser.
“These volunteers, they didn’t take any regard for their own well being. They just went,” he said. “That is exactly how we got him this quick.”
Food and water were in abundance, as it kept coming in from volunteers all over.
“This was just a tremendous outpouring of community spirit,” Settles said. “The people here in this community, the emergency management people, all the way up to state police have just been tremendous.”
Settles said spirits were getting low as Monday wore on, but that would soon change.
“Everyone was getting tired and anxious,” he said. “Really I was beginning to wonder how much longer people were going to be able to hold up. But it seemed like when the news came that he’d been found, there was a renewed spirit.”
Devine said knowing that a small, young child was missing is what kept him going.
“We were trying to make it as fast as we could to try and get him as quick as we could,” he said.
After nearly 45 hours of searching, a community found a lost son and collectively breathed a sigh of relief.