2017-03-09 / Front Page

The longest three hours

Mother of boy who was missing recounts incident, has high praise for everyone who helped in search
By GREG LITTLE Editor


Amy Harper is shown with her son, Hayden. Last week, Hayden was missing for three hours in rugged country in Mariposa County. During that time, this California Highway Patrol helicopter was part of the search effort in the County. 
Photos by Nicole W. Little (Harpers) and Greg Little (helicopter) Amy Harper is shown with her son, Hayden. Last week, Hayden was missing for three hours in rugged country in Mariposa County. During that time, this California Highway Patrol helicopter was part of the search effort in the County. Photos by Nicole W. Little (Harpers) and Greg Little (helicopter) It was just another Thursday.

“It started out as a typical workday,” said Amy Harper, who lives on Oak Grove Road southeast of Mariposa.

But Thursday, March 2 would be anything but typical. In fact, it was a day that would change her family’s life.

Amy was preparing to go into the office to see clients. She is a mental health clinician.

“It was such a beautiful day,” said Amy, referring to all of the rainy days that have happened in recent weeks.

On their property, Amy and her husband, Sloan, have a small outbuilding that has laundry facilities.

Amy and her son, Hayden, age 2 years, 5 months, decided to go for a short walk to enjoy the early morning hours. Amy grabbed some laundry. Hayden asked if he could play in the sandbox.


Shown are Mariposa County Deputy Tim Rumfelt and Sgt. Jeff Totten with members of the Search and Rescue team at the incident last week. 
Submitted photos by Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office Shown are Mariposa County Deputy Tim Rumfelt and Sgt. Jeff Totten with members of the Search and Rescue team at the incident last week. Submitted photos by Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office She told him that would be fine. With him were the two family dogs, a pit bull mix named Charlie and a German shepherd puppy named Jasmine.

Those two dogs would play a key role in what was about to unfold.

“I was just so close,” said Amy. “I could just look out and see him.”

That moment

Then, she said, it “got quiet. I looked outside and they were gone. It happened so fast.”

Amy said she “didn’t freak out right away.”

She and Hayden have developed a dialogue when he is in certain play areas. She will say, “Hayden, say mamma” and “he says it immediately.”


This is some of the terrain the searchers will dealing with in looking for Hayden Harper. This is some of the terrain the searchers will dealing with in looking for Hayden Harper. Not that day.

“It was just silence. My heart started pounding out of my chest.”

She said it a few more times.

Nothing.

She was still at her house and that day, Hayden was going to stay with his grandmother just down the driveway.

Amy immediately jumped into her car and went to her mother-in-law’s house, thinking he might have went there. Her mother-in-law called nearby neighbors and “was slowly getting the word out.”

Amy could wait no longer. It was around 8:30 a.m. when she dialed 911.

Still trying not to panic, Amy went back to her house to a concrete slab where they are constructing a building and a place they sometimes play.

He wasn’t there.

“That’s when I started to panic,” said Amy.


Hayden is shown with his German shepherd, Jasmine, who stayed with him the entire time. Hayden is shown with his German shepherd, Jasmine, who stayed with him the entire time. She then drove up to Oak Grove Road where the pit bull sometimes likes to walk.

Again, nothing.

Help arrives

Within what Amy said was five to 10 minutes, Deputy Chris Ramirez of the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office was on the scene.

He immediately asked her to take him to the last place she saw Hayden.

It was the sandbox.

“There were boot marks in the sand and sand in the dump truck,” she said.

Within minutes, Ramirez had called in various resources to start a search.

“It’s kind of crazy what happens to your ability to track time when you are in shock,” said Amy.

It didn’t take much time for Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Mariposa County Search and Rescue personnel to arrive on the scene. Many of them are volunteers.

For Amy, she knew she had to find her only child.

“I put my mud boots on and went under the fence,” said Amy.

But why under the fence and why that direction?

“I don’t know, except for maybe the fact the dogs (many times) went that way,” she said. “I could just feel him.”

Mother’s intuition, likely.

But her effort to find Hayden would be short-lived. Ramirez said it was vital she go back to the area of the house so she could answer questions and give details to the search parties.

“It took the wind out of me,” she said.

But, she also knew it was what had to be done.

“I trusted them to do their jobs,” said Amy. “They knew what they were doing.”

By the time she got back, there was a lot of activity happening.

“I think at some point, I kind of checked out mentally,” said Amy.

A lost feeling

She remembers hearing the radio traffic. And then came the California Highway Patrol helicopter and search plane.

That was a difficult time, to say the least. She said seeing the helicopter and airplane made her feel “like I wasn’t even there anymore. I had to get away from all of that noise.”

To complicate matters even more, her husband, Sloan, had just started a new work project in El Portal. There was no cell phone service.

“I could not get a hold of him,” she said.

At that point, Amy said she sat on a bench and Ramirez asked what kind of support she needed.

“I just need my husband here,” she told the deputy.

Ramirez was “on it instantly. I was so impressed.”

The sheriff’s office contacted other law enforcement officials in the El Portal area and got word to Sloan. At some point, he also received a text message that Amy had sent.

Still, it’s a long way from El Portal and there was also traffic delays because of tree work. Her husband called her from Midpines, thinking they would have found Hayden by then.

“There are people everywhere and they can’t find him,” she told her husband. “He got scared at that point.”

Amid the chaos

Before Sloan arrived, Amy said she had to do something to avoid the chaos that was happening in front of her. She started answering all of the phone calls she was getting from relatives and friends all over the country. The word was spreading quickly.

After what seemed like an eternity, her husband arrived.

“He picked me up and held me for two or three minutes and let me fall apart,” she said.

Then, Sloan told her he had to go out and find his son.

During all of this, because Amy could not talk with her husband, the second call she made was to her father, Steve Moore.

Even though Moore has had two back surgeries, that didn’t stop him from immediately coming to the house to search for his grandson.

At one point, Moore did come back to the area where officials were staging to talk with his daughter. It was an important move.

Though he came back for just a few minutes, Amy asked him if he would “walk the dog’s trail to the river.”

The dogs sometimes walk that trail, she said, so it was possible Hayden might have walked it with them.

When he got to the river area, Moore said there were a lot of people searching. That’s when he decided to walk the ridge.

At one point, her dad said he saw someone with blonde hair just over the top of the ridge. He thought it was someone searching.

It was not.

It was his grandson.

Amy heard something on the radio traffic, but she wasn’t quite sure what was happening.

“I knew something had happened,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was good or bad.”

She was told Hayden had been found and he was fine.

“I just started bawling,” she said.

A surreal feeling

Hayden was found a mile east of their house, so it took some time for them to get him back, especially given the rough terrain of the area.

“I ran as soon as I saw him,” said Amy.

Her husband was carrying Hayden with her dad by his side. Her dad sat down with Hayden and gave him a drink of water.

“He was the perfect person to find him,” said Amy, referring to her father’s calming demeanor.

Since that moment, Amy’s life has changed significantly.

“It was just surreal,” she said. “I keep replaying it in my mind over and over again.”

Her only child, Hayden “is my whole world,” she said.

When she was able to talk with her son, Amy said she “didn’t want to freak him out. I just smiled and said ‘Hey, buddy, where have you been?’”

Hayden’s answer was simple: “I was just on an adventure with the dogs, mom.”

An adventure Amy will never forget and one that changed her life. Her son was missing for three hours.

“Every minute felt like an hour,” said Amy. “It felt like an eternity. An eternity of helplessness.”

She is still trying to process what happened.

“I don’t think I am back to a real reality yet,” she said. “A layer of stress will shed. And then another layer. I don’t know how many layers are left.”

They have discussed what happened with Hayden.

Their son, who said his favorite part of the “adventure” was seeing the helicopter, now knows he can’t go on any walks without “mommy or daddy.” Hayden, an exceptionally bright boy, already knew that, she said, but for some reason decided that day he would go for that walk. The family may never know why.

Hayden didn’t have a scratch on him, said Amy, and is “doing well.”

The dogs, too, have been impacted. She said both dogs were with him when Hayden has found. They had stayed by his side.

The shepherd “won’t leave his side,” said Amy.

The heroes

Amy can’t say enough about the people who helped find her son.

“I know this community does things like that, but to experience it first-hand was unreal,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”

In all, there were 10 deputies along with 20 Search and Rescue personnel on the scene. There were also 10 to 15 friends and family members searching, along with the helicopter and airplane.

“I am so thankful,” said Amy. “These are the most selfless, kindhearted people I have ever met. To put themselves aside and search for someone they don’t even know; it makes me want to do search and rescue. I don’t know how I could ever pay them back.”

She also wants to “thank everyone who reached out. All the prayers and all the shares.”

Those social media shares helped get the word out quickly, something which may have helped because it did keep her occupied — somewhat — during the ordeal.

But she is still dealing with everything.

“It’s hard to sleep at night,” said Amy. “The first night I sat on his bed and watched him sleep for hours.”

Even though Amy may be having trouble sleeping, it’s probably safe to say when she does sleep, she knows an entire community is on her side.

That’s one of the reasons they moved back to Mariposa to raise a family. Though she went through a trauma like most people can’t imagine, in the end, the outcome was positive — and she is forever thankful.

Greg Little is Editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at greg@mariposagazette.com.

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