4-year-old Grove Place girl found, had spent night in wilderness
Published: March 15, 2013
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ST. CROIX - The sun was barely beaming through the mahogany tree canopy on Estate River Road early Thursday morning when 4-year-old Melanie Ferguson came stumbling out of the thick bush with her two small dogs by her side.
She had spent the night with her companions alone in the wilderness after wandering away from home almost 22 hours earlier - sparking a huge search effort involving about 100 law enforcement personnel Wednesday afternoon - but she was found alive and unharmed.
Police reported that Melanie wandered away from her home on Bastian Road, on the northern side of Grove Place, and last was seen by a family member some time after 9 a.m. Wednesday, playing in the area with her two small brown dogs.
She was wearing black leggings and a multicolored shirt with thin straps, and she was not wearing any shoes, which was evident by the lacerations on her tiny feet when she was found.
Just after 7 a.m., the search crews got word that the girl had been found, and they converged on Estate River Road, where the girl was reunited with her parents.
Reynold Phillip and Charles Byron said it was nothing short of a miracle when they saw the girl and her dogs coming out of the bushes as they drove down the road.
Byron said he asked Melanie where she was going, and she said, "I'm going home."
They waited until another vehicle came along, then they called police.
The small dogs were very aggressive, barking and snapping, not allowing anyone to get near Melanie until her parents arrived.
When Melanie's mother and father, Miguel Diaz and Heather Ferguson, arrived, emotions ran high as they were reunited with their daughter.
Some searchers cried, some thanked God, and others just watched and cheered as Melanie's parents hugged the little girl, tightly hugged each other and then hugged some of the searchers as tears streamed down their faces.
Heather Ferguson wept with joy and played with the dogs momentarily before the family was whisked away to Luis Hospital.
Diaz said he had not slept all night and welcomed dozens of friends, family and even strangers overnight as they came to his house ready to hit the bushes to help find his daughter.
"People have a lot to say about St. Croix, but right now, all I can say is that St. Croix is beautiful, and the people here are beautiful," he said.
Diaz said that when they first realized Melanie had been missing from outside the home, they began searching the areas near the house.
"She has wandered off behind the dogs before, and we found her, but yesterday, man, the reality hit me that I may never see my little girl again," he said.
Diaz joined the many search teams who took to the bushes with machetes and big sticks in hand, hoping for the best.
"She is only 4, a baby. Anything could have happened," he said.
Ferguson still was visibly shaken hours after being reunited with her daughter.
"I just keep thinking on how scared she must have been and cold and hungry, and I just can't believe this," she said.
Ferguson said she has learned a priceless lesson from the ordeal and has seen how quickly a young child can wander away and disappear.
"It only took about 10 minutes before she wander away, and then it take me a little while before I notice she was missing," she said. "It teaches me to keep my eyes on her even if she is just outside, 'cause she was just playing with those dogs and they lead her away."
Ferguson said Melanie was dehydrated and tired Thursday morning.
"She hardly spoke, she was so tired," Ferguson said. "She asked for her dad. Then she said, 'Mommy, I was looking for you.' Then she put her head on my chest and closed her eyes."
Melanie was discharged from the hospital Thursday afternoon and was resting.
"We have all been through a lot. I just thank God and all the people who help and pray and search for my little girl," Ferguson said.
Acting St. Croix Police Chief James Parris said Wednesday afternoon that when police were notified, four units responded to the scene to launch an initial investigation. As the search intensified, the number of law enforcement personnel quickly grew.
Bohlke International Airways aided searchers with a fixed-wing aircraft, and the V.I. National Guard provided a helicopter. Both aircraft conducted aerial searches into the afternoon, according to Parris.
Other manpower was provided by V.I. Police Department, the Police Cadets, the Civil Air Patrol, the V.I. National Guard, St. Croix Rescue, Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Enforcement, Port Authority Police, V.I. Waste Management Enforcement Officers, Superior Court Marshals and dozens of residents during the 22-hour period.
The news of the missing girl spread primarily through the Grove Place area and yielded responses from dozens of area residents soon after the incident was made public and throughout the night.
Raymond Williams, president of Grove Place Action Committee commended the residents for being supportive and coming to the aid of the girl and her family.
"This is our community, and residents from in and out of Grove Place answered the call for assistance and that was remarkable," he said. "It is times like these, in times of crisis, that it matters that our community can come together to keep each other up."
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.