After two-year-old William Odom disappeared from his rural home in Mississippi, a frantic search began. William was wearing nothing but a diaper and further complicating matters was the fact that he was thought to be autistic – meaning that he might not respond to rescuers, even if they were within yards of him.
William’s family home lay on Pete Hickman Road on the outskirts of Saucier, a small town in Harrison County, Mississippi with a population of some 1,300 people. It is in a wooded area and is close to a river and a creek – and the search party was all too aware of the potential dangers that faced the child, who was described as being “non-verbal.”
Indeed, the rural setting of the home dramatically increased the chances that William might be injured – perhaps even fatally. In the wild surroundings, he might by attacked by stray dogs or other animals and with a creek and the Biloxi river close by, he could easily fall in and drown.
In the meantime, though, it seemed like there was no trace of him. That was until investigators found paw prints leading into the woods. It would be a race against time to find the toddler.
“Our greatest concern was [that] he was two years old, and he was lost,” Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson told the The Sun Herald. “With the autism, he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t hear us. He couldn’t answer us. He couldn’t make noises so we could hear him. We didn’t know if he was going to drown in the creek or [if he had] come in contact with an animal that would hurt him or a stray dog.”
William had last been seen asleep in his bed at 6:30 a.m. when his father, Anthony Odom, left for work, leaving the boy’s mother, Chelsea Noble, in the house. William’s absence was discovered when Chelsea woke up to find the door wide open and William gone. Chelsea soon alerted Eary Murray, William’s great uncle, as to what had happened.
Eary searched his yard and the nearby river and woods but failed to find the child. It was then that the family contacted the emergency services at around 10:30 a.m. Some 40 people would join the resulting search, assisted by trained dog units and a helicopter.
The group’s greatest anxiety was that William would make his way to the creek – and he had been there before with his great uncle. “I have walked down there with the children myself, just for exercise.” Eary explained to The Sun Herald. “My first thought was that he went off into the woods or in the river by himself…”
Due to the significant number of bodies of water in the vicinity, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks and Gulf Coast Search and Rescue also took part in the search. After several hours, though, they still hadn’t found William.
However, at 3:15 p.m., around eight hours after William was thought to have gone missing, someone spotted something. Ten-year-old Blake Carroll was on his way home from Saucier Elementary school. After getting down from the school bus, he heard a horn honking – and Blake decided to investigate. What he found would end the search for William.
The source of the noise was a parked, white Nissan Frontier truck, that was a five-minute walk from where the search party was looking for William. A dog was prowling around the vehicle and scratching at its exterior. And inside the truck was William.
Blake sought help and soon brought his uncle to the scene. The man forced open the truck’s window and looked in – and he found William alive and well inside the vehicle.
And the animal pacing around the truck was none other than the family dog Jezebel. She had stayed with William during his trek through the woods – and seemed to have made sure that he came to no harm. The paw prints that led from the house and into the woods belonged not to a predator but to Jezebel.
County Sheriff Troy Peterson noted how the pair had stuck together. “[William] probably walked 3 or 4 miles through the woods, and his dog stayed right by his side until he got in the car,” the sheriff told The Sun Herald. “With the grid we were searching, it would have been another hour and a half before we searched the area where he was found.”
Speaking to the Kansas City Star he said, “Every time we found his footprint, we found the dog footprint right beside him. So the dog traveled with him all day. When the little boy was found, the dog was still circling the truck and scratching on the truck.”
After a tearful reunion with her son, Noble spoke to People about the boy’s bond with the family dog. “Ever since she was a puppy, they’ve been really close,” she said. “He loves feeding her. He loves helping bathe her. That’s his dog. After this, I believe there’s no changing that part. She saved my baby. Her and that little boy saved his life.”
After what must have been an epic journey for a two-year-old, William had apparently climbed inside the truck and fallen fast asleep. He was treated for scratches and heat exhaustion, but he was otherwise in good health.
Blake Carroll, the boy who had found William, was hailed as a hero. He was treated to burgers and chocolate cake by his school principal, and he was praised for showing “great responsibility.”
However, while William was safe, his mother Chelsea was in trouble – and she would soon be separated from William again. This was the second time that William had been reported missing from the family home. Strangely, the truck that he had been found in was only 200 yards from the spot where he had been discovered on the previous occasion that he went missing.
Following two disappearances, it was decided that Noble was at fault for failing to supervise her son. She was charged with misdemeanor child neglect, placed in custody and put on a bail of $1,500 – and all her children were taken into care by child protection services.