DURHAM — The nearly three-week search for a 5-year-old boy lost in the Androscoggin River came to an end Monday when a kayaking instructor found Valerio McFarland’s body less than an hour into his first day volunteering in the search.

Christopher Lane, shown in a 2009 photo, found the body of 5-year-old Valerio McFarland on Monday. Searchers had been scouring the Androscoggin River for Valerio since he fell into the water while playing April 24. Lane is the father of six, including a 5-year-old boy. Facebook photo courtesy Christopher Lane

Christopher Lane, 43, of Litchfield, an L.L. Bean instructor and father of six, found Valerio’s body as he kayaked the river in Durham, about 5 miles downstream from where the boy and his older brother had fallen into the water April 24. When Lane found Valerio, his body was half-submerged, leaning against a tree.

“I don’t feel like it was me,” Lane said. “He was meant to be found.”

Dozens of Maine game wardens, Marine Patrol officers and volunteers had spent long hours searching for Valerio to no avail since he was swept away, scouring the river and its banks in boats and planes, as part of dive teams, and on foot and with dogs for 20 days.

Lane said his L.L. Bean co-workers had put together a search team over the weekend, but he was not able to go. He had not realized until then that Valerio was still missing.

On Monday, Lane went out on his own, and called 911 when he spotted Valerio’s body. Game wardens responded to the area using a warden service air boat.

Valerio’s mother, Helena Gagliano-McFarland, said Monday that she and her family are extremely grateful to the volunteers and wardens who have spent almost three weeks searching for her son.

“If it wasn’t for the volunteer effort, God only knows how long it would be – if ever – before he would have been found,” she said. “We are utterly thankful to everybody. We wish to thank everybody who participated in the search.”

The body of 5-year-old Valerio McFarland was found Monday, 5 miles downstream from where he fell into the Androscoggin River. Photo courtesy of McFarland family

On April 24, Valerio was playing with his brother, 10-year-old Maxim, at Bonney Park in Auburn, close to the home the family had moved into just a few days before. Their mother was in the house, their father outside with the boys, when Valerio fell into the nearby, rushing river. Maxim was the first to jump in to try to save him. Their 9-year-old sister and father, Jason McFarland, quickly followed. They couldn’t reach either of the boys, but managed to get back out of the river before being swept away.

Rescuers were able to pull Maxim from the water about 10 minutes later, and he was rushed to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, then taken by LifeFlight to Maine Medical Center in Portland. Maxim has recovered, but his little brother’s body wasn’t found and the family repeatedly had pleaded for the public’s help.

Early on, the family also had pleaded with Gov. Paul LePage to call out the Maine National Guard or provide other help with the search.

The governor’s spokeswoman said last week that LePage had since spoken to Valerio’s mother “at length” and “listened to her concerns.” The spokeswoman did not respond to repeated questions about the governor’s decision not to call out the National Guard or petition the Coast Guard for assistance.

Valerio’s mother said Monday she was at the search site when she got the call that her son had been found. A volunteer’s cadaver dog had hit on that area over the weekend, but searchers turned up nothing until Lane found him Monday.

“We’re happy that we found him, but with sorrow in our hearts that we no longer have our boy,” Gagliano-McFarland said. “At least we can give him a resting place.”

Cpl. John MacDonald, spokesman for the warden service, wrote in a prepared statement Monday that his agency wanted to thank the Auburn Police Department, first responders and the “countless volunteers who have searched tirelessly the last several weeks. We hope today’s recovery can begin to provide closure for the McFarland family.”

The boy’s family had organized a search effort, headquartered at City Cab Co. on Whipple Street in Lewiston. Scores of volunteers signed up to join in the search, pairing up and receiving instructions.

Down East Emergency Medicine Institute in Bangor also joined the search with volunteer crews trained in spotting by binoculars, flying a search plane and even a drone. Hundreds of digital, high-definition photographs of the river and its banks were taken and analyzed for signs of the boy.

The warden service’s diving effort was restricted by high-water flows that created hazards. A warden service boat equipped with sonar devices was used to comb the river’s bottom for clues.

Lane deflected taking credit for finding Valerio’s body.

“Personally, I don’t feel like it was me,” he said. “I think it was from all the prayers that were being said, and a few of my own.”

Lindsay Tice can be contacted at:

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