DRESDEN — A massive search for a missing local boy ended happily Thursday when he was found cold and wet, but otherwise safe, near the Eastern River after spending a lonely night in the woods.

Micah Thomas, 12, disappeared after getting off the school bus Wednesday afternoon. He was found nearly 24 hours later by resident Tim Nason, who said he was searching near his Alexander Road home. He found Thomas sitting in the woods in bare feet and unable to walk.

Sgt. Mark Warren of the Maine Warden Service said Thomas was taken by a Marine Patrol boat to the east side of the river, where he was briefly reunited with his parents and then taken by ambulance to be treated for exposure. Thomas showed signs of hypothermia when rescued.

“He was cold and wet, but he’s in good condition,” Warren said.

Thomas got off the bus around 3 p.m., at the intersection of Eagle Lodge Lane and Route 127, according to authorities. He was seen an hour later on East Pittston Road, a dead-end road a few miles from where he was dropped off. Dresden is a town of about 1,600 in Lincoln County.

Thomas was found near the river around 2 p.m. Thursday.

The Maine Warden Service led the search for the boy, which included roughly 50 people from multiple law enforcement and civilian search agencies using dogs, airboats, ground searchers, a helicopter and an airplane. Overnight temperatures dropped to about 25 degrees.

Lt. Kevin Adam of the Maine Warden Service said the search turned up evidence and a trail followed by tracking dogs, but none of the leads led to Thomas.

Much of the search focused on the eastern side of Eastern River, but Adam said Thomas crossed over to the west shore sometime during the night.

Thomas told authorities he did not hear searchers or airplanes until Thursday morning, Adam said. The boy said he hollered in hopes of attracting attention.

Nason, who was searching independently of the organized search, said in an email Thursday that he heard someone yelling and found Thomas sitting in the middle of a swampy area between the woods and river.

“He was wearing only a blue sweatshirt with a hood, his bare feet (were) blue and numb with cold,” Nason said. “He had been out all night and told me he didn’t think he would have survived another night.”

Nason said he carried Thomas to a berm and tried to wave down a plane before getting the attention of the Marine Patrol officers on board the boat.

“One of the men crossed about 75 feet of mud to get to the berm to carry Micah back to the boat,” Nason said.

Adam was starting a news conference Thursday afternoon to update reporters on the search when he excused himself after being told there had been a development in the search. Moments later, someone yelled to the gathering that Thomas had been found. Adam confirmed the report a few moments later. Rescuers’ faces, which had been somber all morning, suddenly creased with relieved smiles.

“I’m ecstatic,” Adam said. “I was extremely concerned the longer it went on. They usually don’t last this long.”

Thomas’ grandfather, Rob Morris, said there was “some kind of small incident” on the bus ride that may have spurred Thomas to avoid going home when he got off the bus.

“He decided to take a little walk,” Morris said. “It wasn’t a great decision, but he seemed to make one or two good decisions after that.”

Thomas is a seventh grader at Hall-Dale Middle School, where he runs cross country and last year was an honor student.

“He loves the woods,” Morris said. “He likes being outside. That probably served him well (Wednesday) night.”

Morris was unable to talk to his grandson before he was taken to the ambulance, but the boy shot his grandfather a reassuring glance.

“He smiled at me with his eyes,” Morris said. “I would say he’s very lucky.”

Morris said Thomas’ family, which includes his stepfather and mother, Peter and Laura Thomas, and his father, Paris Avery, spent the night looking for the lost boy. Wardens asked them to stay out of the woods, so the family scoured roads in the area, each new bend in the road giving hope that they would find Thomas on the other side.

“That was important for us to do,” Morris said. “Every second you’re thinking he’s going to walk out from behind that tree.”

None of the family members slept, Morris said.

“We forced ourselves to eat because you have to keep going,” he said.

“We’ve been a very supportive family and hoping for the best,” Morris added. “We’re a very close family.”

Morris repeatedly echoed his thanks to those who searched for his grandson.

“The public safety response was phenomenal. You hope you get this kind of help when you need it.” Morris said. “We have a lot of people to thank. Thank you isn’t enough.”

The search Wednesday night and Thursday was the second in central Maine in recent months. Law enforcement agencies and volunteers also searched extensively in Waterville for Ayla Reynolds, who was 20 months old when she was reported missing from her father’s home on Dec. 17.

No sign of the toddler was found in that search and it was scaled down a couple weeks later before the ground search ended. Authorities are still seeking clues to her whereabouts.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

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