By Robin Rieger
EAST GREENWICH TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) — Police in Gloucester County, New Jersey have the life of a nine-year-old autistic child they saved. Officers found the boy Saturday afternoon stuck in mud and water in the Mantua Creek in East Greenwich.
“In front of the sneakers all we saw were maybe seven or eight footprints that led out to the waterway,” said East Greenwich Township police officer Phil Owensand. “At that point my heart sunk.”
Owens says when a 911 call came in at 3:45 Saturday afternoon that the boy was missing from his his Billows Drive backyard. Officers and neighbors immediately started searching.
Deptford canine officer Adam Ziegler joined Owens and a Logan Township canine unit. They searched woods behind the boys home. On the other side of the trees is the Mantua Creek.
“It was difficult,” said Ziegler, “but all of our dogs just kind of ended on the water there.”
Owens says it wasn’t until the boy’s father saw his sneakers and started calling his name by the creek’s edge that the boy responded by screaming. Police say he did not talk. By that time, an hour and a half had gone by.
“All we saw at one point was just a small head bobbing back and forth and screaming,” Owens said. “He was up to his neck in mud.”
Police say the boy, whose caregiver reported him missing from the backyard, was 200 yards from shore in the middle of the creek. Police say the tide was rising.
“As police officers we just jumped right in,” Ziegler said. “We didn’t really give it a thought, uniforms, gun belts and all.”
He and another officer dug the crying boy out of the mud. A total of six got him to shore.
“Bringing him back we had to take turns, shifts because we were sinking in the mud,” Ziegler said.
“He was obviously very upset, scared and it was cold out. He was shivering.” said officer Brett Pfeiffer who helped at the shoreline. He says the boy was checked out at a local hospital and released.
Neighbor Adam Pitz, who knows the child, says he is grateful to police.
“I think it’s great to know that we have people around here that’ll do stuff like that,” he said.
Pitz says he often sees the boy playing next door and that the boys family is always watching out for him. Police say they don’t have any reports the boy had wandered off in the past.
Other neighbors had warnings for their kids about the dangers of the creek, not far from their homes.
“I told them definitely not to go back there because of the mud,” said neighbor Ruth Gibbone. “They could just sink in it and not be able to get out.”