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Overnight search for missing Park Rapids boy frightening experience for parents

Riley Spragg, 7, sits with his parents, Lindsay and Shane and 2-year-old sister Viviyan at their Park Rapids home on Wednesday following a frightening weekend where Riley and his cousin were missing overnight. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)

The 7-year-old Park Rapids boy who was missing overnight last weekend north of Bemidji is home safely after an all-night search Saturday had parents Lindsay and Shane Spragg worrying, and at times thinking the worst.

The Spraggs live in Park Rapids and were visiting family last Saturday in Puposky, the town where Lindsay grew up, 20 miles north of Bemidji, when Riley Spragg and his 8-year-old cousin Cortez Smith left on a 4-wheeler.

The boys were located the next morning safe and in good health, but not after a frantic and frightening search by many volunteers.

Looking back at the ordeal Lindsay said they are still dealing with what she calls some "aftermath" but is thankful for all the volunteers who came out to search.

The boys were found safely Sunday morning after spending the night in a cabin. They had been missing about 18 hours.

"I’m just amazed at the support. I’ve never seen anything like it," she said. "You don’t think something like this is going to happen. We’re just so appreciative for everyone that came out and searched for the boys."

After taking off on their 4-wheeler adventure Saturday afternoon, the boys ended up getting the ATV stuck and walked about ¾ of a mile to a log cabin in the woods where they spent the night.

Lindsay and Shane thought the boys were just going up the road to her parents’ house.

A short time later they became concerned when Shane said he couldn’t hear the 4-wheeler anymore. Lindsay and Shane started searching at 5:45 p.m., thinking they couldn’t be far off. By 6 p.m. they sent Cortez’s mother a message asking if the boys were there.

"For me the shock of him missing didn’t hit until about an hour and a half after they were gone," Lindsay said. "That’s when I started getting terrified. I was a mess. I was crying all through the trails."

Lindsay said they called law enforcement at 7 p.m.

"By this time there were 20 to 30 people on 4-wheelers looking for the boys," Lindsay said. "We had friends and family out there and by 9:00 there was a good 200 people searching with ATVs and Jeeps."

There are trails going everywhere through the woods and the boys could have taken any of them and lost their way, Lindsay recalled.

"We just didn’t think they were that far," she said.

The boys started out in a direction Riley was familiar with, headed toward a place called the dirt pits when the boys went the wrong way.

Lindsay, Shane and many others searched through the night. The State Patrol flew in a helicopter with an infrared system to try and locate the boys but nothing. Lindsay figured this was around midnight and the search still hadn’t turned up any clues.

"It was very, very rough," Lindsay said. "It was so overwhelming  not knowing where he was. The worst things come to mind, especially after the helicopter didn’t find anything. I was pretty crushed."

Shane too was demoralized after the unsuccessful helicopter search ended in the early morning hours. Shane admits at this point he was in shock for a couple hours, until he snapped out of it and they went out searching more.

"There was no way I could just sit there with my son out there," Shane said. The Spraggs jumped in their car about 2:30 a.m. and said they drove around on trails for another hour and a half.

The search group continued on ATVs until about 5 a.m. Sunday. The search had gone on all night.

The boys’ footprints were located near Jackson Lake about five miles from Lindsay’s parents’ house.

"I just had a feeling, I looked at Shane and said ‘I bet you anything they went this way’"she recalled.

That feeling she had went toward Sandy Lake, crossing a paved road and connecting with another dirt road.

And it turns out that is the direction the boys went. After they got the 4-wheeler stuck they walked until they found a gate at the end of a road. The boys climbed over the gate and recognized the cabin, and that’s where they spent Saturday night until they were found Sunday morning.

Gary Yrbach owns the log cabin where the boys were found. The cabin is about 10 miles north of the staging area. By the end of the search more than 340 people had signed up to search, along with 50 professionals helping in the search, too.

The boys reportedly did some damage to the cabin during the overnight adventure.

"My brother and I had been searching all through the night. In the end, these kids were found and it was a very happy moment for us to have them found," Yrbach told the Bemidji Pioneer. "The damage is nothing that we can’t clean up… The parents are doing everything they can to make that right with us right now and so are the children. The kids are very sorry and they want to make it right. We’re OK with having a damaged cabin as long as those two kids were found safe."

The incident was a difficult lesson to learn for the Spragg family. Lindsay said both boys have ADHD and Riley was also diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder, making it difficult for him to show emotion oftentimes with things he probably should.

Lindsay said Riley’s meds wear off by 6 p.m. which likely contributed to the unfortunate events.

She wants people to understand these are young boys, and sometimes "boys will be boys". She said the boys helped cleanup on Sunday and plan to make a couple more trips this summer to do some chores at the cabin.

Riley said they were a little scared staying overnight in the cabin by themselves but had what they needed to stay warm and get some sleep. Hungry, they "devoured" a banana cream that was in the refrigerator.

By the time the boys were reunited with their families they had been missing 18 hours.

"It was horrible," Lindsay said of being up all night not knowing what happened to the boys. "I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. This was like a nightmare or something you would see on TV."

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