SPRINGWATER, Ont. — Two young brothers who spent a foggy night huddled together for warmth were returned to the safety of their central Ontario home Friday thanks to an Amber Alert that brought two municipal workers into the search.
Police issued the alert about eight hours after 10-year-old Tyson Fildey, and his five-year-old brother Mason Fildey-Holyj went missing as darkness fell.
The boys spent 12 hours in the bush about three kilometres north of their home in Springwater Township, about 25 km northwest of Barrie.
“At the end of it all, the boys have been found no worse for wear,” said OPP Const. Peter Leon. “A little cold, a little dirty, but smiles all around for sure.”
The boys told CHCH News they were tired and hungry, but happy to be home from the hospital where they were checked out.
An Amber Alert was issued shortly after 1 a.m. amid concerns over a pickup truck seen leaving the area very quickly. It turned out the two boys had wandered off on their own in the dark and weren’t abducted.
While the Amber Alert was instrumental in bringing Tyson and Mason home safely it appears changes last year to the criteria for issuing such an alert may have also played a role.
For an Amber Alert to be triggered under the old criteria, police had to believe a child under 18 had just been abducted, consider the child to be in danger of serious bodily harm, and have enough descriptive information of a suspect or vehicle.
Under the new rules, ushered in after the disappearance and death of eight-year-old Tori Stafford, police need only suspect, not confirm, an abduction and are not required to have detailed descriptions of an abductor or vehicle.
The children were found after Dale Buchanan and Joe Moir, two employees of Springwater Township, heard about the alert and thought they could help because they know the area well.
They spotted the kids walking on the side of Flos Road 4 W. and Atkinson Road, just a few minutes’ drive from the police command post, and took them to authorities around 7 a.m., just after sunrise.
“When we found them, they were talkative,” Buchanan wrote in a statement. “They were just cold.”
Brad Sokach, director of public works at the township, said the men reported to the command post and had just driven away when they found the children walking toward them.
“Our guys were driving up the road, and just out of the fog these two boys appeared walking down the road,” Sokach said.
OPP Insp. Dave Ross said he was happy to hear that it was the alert that prompted the men to join the search.
He said the alert — which is broadcast in the media, on lottery terminal screens and highway signs, and through Facebook and text messages — was an essential tool that helped the boys return home safe.
“That’s the purpose of the Amber Alert, (it’s) to get that information out to as many people as you can,” he said.
“In this case they weren’t abducted, but if it was successful even in locating missing children, that’s good as well.”
In the case of Tori’s disappearance in April 2009, Oxford police didn’t issue an Amber Alert because it didn’t meet the criteria. The outcry over that decision sparked a review, leading to greater leeway for police to issue an alert.
John Durant, the director of Child Find Ontario, who sits on an Amber Alert committee with media, police and the Ministry of Transportation said the system doesn’t deserve the criticism.
“It’s a marvellous tool because it envelops more people to assist law enforcement. It’s a tool that has worked very, very well.”
Tyson and Mason’s grandfather, Bruce Fildey, said the boys told him they simply got lost.
“I guess the boys got wandering around a little bit before dark last night and it got dark and they didn’t get back home, then they got lost and didn’t know where they were, so they did spend the night in the bush,” he said.
Elizabeth Fildey, the boys’ cousin, said the brothers have never wandered off before, and the family spent a sleepless night searching.
“I was shaking,” she said. “I’m so happy they’re back.”
The boys were released from the nearby Collingwood General and Marine Hospital after being checked out as a precaution.
“It’s certainly something the boys will be able to go to school on Monday and talk about with their friends,” Const. Leon said.
Their minor injuries were nothing a warm bath and cup of hot chocolate wouldn’t fix, Leon added.
The boys had been playing near their home about 20 kilometres northwest of Barrie (on Rainbow Valley Road off Highway 26) just before they were reported missing.
Police spent the night searching a rural area dotted with farms and wooded lots.
— By Mary Gazze in Toronto