To have a child go missing is any parent’s worst nightmare. So when six-year-old Kaydon Ray Leach disappeared in April 2018, his family must have despaired. Moreover, we can only imagine their surprise when they learned that the boy was not alone when rescuers finally found him.
Leach lives in Top of the World, a community located in the east of Tennessee. In April 2018 he was just a normal six-year-old boy who no doubt enjoyed spending time outside. And that’s exactly what the youngster was doing one evening, when he suddenly vanished.
Understandably concerned, his family reported Leach’s disappearance to James Lee Berrong, the Blount County Sheriff. He in turn wasted no time in getting word of the missing boy out, urging the public to offer any information they had that may assist the search for Leach.
In a statement, the Sheriff’s Office reported that Leach was around 60 pounds in weight and 4 feet tall. It added that he had brown hair and blue eyes and was wearing grey sweatpants, a black T-shirt and slip-on shoes at the time of his disappearance.
Without a coat, Leach had no means of keeping warm once darkness fell. So, needless to say, time was of the essence. As a result, the police officer called in an army Blackhawk helicopter to help with the search.
A number of ground searches were also orchestrated, some of which were organized by the local community. Word of Leach’s disappearance spread rapidly when the Blount County EMS distributed an IPAWS message about the boy. And many recipients simply felt that they couldn’t sit back and do nothing when a child’s life hung in the balance.
Speaking to WVLT in April 2018, search volunteer Brandon Parish explained, “We’re a very tight community. We try to help everyone. I got a phone call about what was going on. I was coming up the mountain from work and just shot straight over and did everything I could to help.”
In addition, lots of volunteers found each other through the neighborhood app Next Door. And even though some individuals couldn’t join the search themselves, they rallied around to help in whatever way that they could.
For instance, Megan Kessler took it upon herself to keep other volunteers fed and watered. “We knew it was going to be a long night,” she explained. “We brought coffee, chilli, whatever they needed. We wanted to make sure we could supply it. They wouldn’t let us search, so we did what we could.”
Meanwhile, a Facebook post containing a photograph of Leach’s Tennessee Endangered Child Alert was shared by WBIR Channel 10. And not long afterwards, the update had been reposted more than 2,000 times and garnered over 350 reactions.
So, needless to say, pretty much the whole community had come together in search of Leach. But, despite everyone’s best efforts, the overnight search proved fruitless. Nonetheless, the band of volunteers vowed that they would not abandon their efforts.
Consequently, they resumed their search the very next day. They focused their energies on the area that was within a half-mile radius of Leach’s home. But given the rural nature of some of the landscape, finding the six-year-old was not going to be an easy task.
Thankfully, though, the volunteers’ and first-responders’ perseverance paid off. Because, by searching off the beaten track, they finally found Leach. In fact, he came wondering right up to them in a stretch of woods. And to their surprise, he was not alone.
It turned out that Leach had been with his dog Chula all along. And, ever the faithful pet, the animal had done its best to keep the child as safe as possible. “The dog growled at the rescuers when they approached Kaydon, so the dog is a protector,” BCSO Chief Deputy Jeff French explained.
Now that they had located Leach, rescuers turned their attention to ensuring that he recovered from his ordeal. And according to volunteer Parish, the youngster didn’t seem in a good way when they found him. In fact, he was cold and purple.
Recalling the first interactions that rescuers had with Leach, Parish revealed, “We asked him if he was okay, how he was feeling. He said, ‘Very cold.’ We said, ‘We’re going to get you down to safety,’ and he started telling us his address, where he lived.”
But before Leach could go home, medical personnel decided that it was advisable that the youngster visited Blount Memorial Hospital first. In the meantime, his relieved relatives issued a statement about their boy’s return.
It read, “We’re so thankful to everyone, from local law enforcement agencies to volunteers, who helped us find Kaydon. The amount of support we have received has been tremendous, even from people we don’t even know. We appreciate all our friends and neighbors, and ask for privacy at this time.”
News of Leach’s return was also met with celebration online. “So glad he was found safe,” one well-wisher wrote on Facebook. “Had the little guy on my mind since I found out he was lost. Something he can tell his grandkids, thank God.”
So, after what must have been an agonizing 22-hour wait for his loved ones, little Leach was found safe. And although no family should have to endure the horrible experience of having a child go missing, perhaps it came as some comfort to them that the boy was never alone. In fact, he had his best friend Chula by his side the whole time.