Conservation Officers find missing teenager by following footprints into frozen swamp in West Branch Township
MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - A 14-year-old boy reported missing Tuesday afternoon was treated and released from UPHS Marquette after Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers located him cold and wet near Foster Creek, south of Marquette.
At 4:25 p.m. Marquette County Central Dispatch informed local emergency responders of a runaway boy who lives along Marquette County Road 545 North in West Branch Township.
The DNR is not releasing the boy’s name because he is a minor.
Conservation Officer John Kamps and probationary Conservation Officer Steve Sajtar were patrolling nearby and immediately began searching the area.
Kamps and Sajtar located a set of footprints and began tracking them, south of County Road 545 North and Maplewood Road.
Officers followed the footprints about 650 yards, until they encountered a person walking, who confirmed a boy who matched the missing teen’s description had walked east on Maplewood Road about three hours earlier.
The footprints continued for over a mile, until Maplewood Road came to a dead end. The officers followed into swampland surrounding Foster Creek, where the snow measured up to thigh deep on the officers.
“With below freezing temperatures and only a couple hours of daylight left, time was of the essence,” Sajtar said. “We knew the boy was likely cold and wet from the swamp.”
At 6:10 p.m., Kamps and Sajtar found the boy sitting on a snowbank along Foster Creek, wearing only a shirt and pajama pants.
The boy had removed his wet shoes and socks because he had fallen into the creek. He wrapped his bare feet in his jacket in attempt to stay warm.
“I’m freezing cold,” the boy told the officers.
A brief first-aid scan was conducted by the officers, who noted the boy had a loss of pigmentation and numbness in his feet.
Kamps removed his wool gloves for the boy to put on his feet. Confirming the boy could walk, Sajtar helped the boy put his shoes back on so they could hike out of the woods.
Taking several breaks, the officers helped the boy walk about 275 yards to where an ambulance met them, along Foster Creek Drive, west of U.S. Highway 41.
EMS transported the boy to UP Health System in Marquette where he was treated for cold exposure.
Kamps has been a conservation officer since 2017 and is assigned to patrol Marquette County. Sajtar graduated from the 2022 Conservation Officer Recruit School Academy and is currently training in Marquette County.
Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state law enforcement officers who receive specialized search and rescue training. Conservation officers provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety, and protect people by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.
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