Fla. deputies find missing autistic 3-year-old in woods

The team used bloodhounds to safely recover the child in less than three hours


Tony Adame
Northwest Florida Daily News

MILTON, Fla. —Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Robert Lenzo listened to the call from dispatch and immediately felt the knot in his stomach.

"Missing 3-year-old boy in Pace. May have gone into woods." he heard.

Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office Deputy Robert Lenzo carries three-year-old Aedric Hughes, who deputies recovered with the help of tracking bloodhounds.  (Photo/Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office)
Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office Deputy Robert Lenzo carries three-year-old Aedric Hughes, who deputies recovered with the help of tracking bloodhounds. (Photo/Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office)

"You hear that a 3-year-old is missing ... it's scary," Lenzo said. "I would never say I knew we could help, but I knew we'd trained hard to get to that point. Someone tells you something like that and that knot in your stomach doesn't go away until you have the kid in your hands."

Two-and-a-half hours later, that's exactly what Lenzo did, walking out of the woods holding a muddy, bruised and battered three-year-old Aedric Hughes. Lenzo, along with Deputy Josh Chandler and a pair of K-9 bloodhounds, Copper and Zinc, were able to track the boy through swampy terrain and deliver him back safely to his family.

A picture taken of Lenzo carrying Aedric out of the woods quickly went viral and Aedric's family, along with Lenzo, Chandler, Sheriff Bob Johnson and Zinc were all reunited on Monday morning in Milton. Aedric got to formally meet Zinc and the officers who saved him and was also gifted with an enormous stuffed teddy bear from the SRSO.

"It's every parent's nightmare to get that call, that your child is missing," said Audra Hughes, Aedric's mother. "When I heard they had (Aedric) but I couldn't see him I was crying and kept yelling out 'Mama's here' over and over so he could hear me ... it was just very emotional. I'm so thankful to the officers and everyone involved. Where it's the nightmare to hear your child is missing, the dream is to get him back safe. And we did."

Aedric, who is autistic and also has a congenital heart defect, went missing from his grandmother's house around 11 a.m., when he unlatched a deadbolt and wandered into the woods. The bloodhounds, who have been training with Lenzo and Chandler for the last year, quickly tracked the boy to an area in the woods approximately 200 yards back from the tree line.

While the bloodhounds were able to get to Aedric right away, Sheriff's officers had to use a machete to access the area, which was a thick and overgrown briar patch.

"One year ago we got the bloodhounds, and (Sunday) they paid off with dividends," Johnson said. "(Aedric) is no worse for wear other than a couple of scratches and bug bites ... we put the dogs on the ground and they went right to him. They did exactly what they were supposed to do."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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