The Boy Scout's motto is Be Prepared, but just how prepared is the question many are asking after the disappearance of Michael Auberry during a Scout campout on Saturday.
Auberry, 12, went missing while camping with Boy Scout Troop 230 in Doughton Park, a 7,000-acre wilderness area located along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
The park's 30 miles of trails are moderate to strenuous, and temperatures fell into the 20s Saturday and Sunday night. The rugged area must be one scary place for the boy, lost and alone.
Auberry has been a Scout for about a year. He was dressed appropriately for the weather in a red coat with fleece lining, gloves and a hat, according to Scout leaders at the scene. But survival experts point to another factor in Auberry's favor -- his experience in the Boy Scouts.
"He's been around the Boy Scouts for a while. Even with a little bit of knowledge, I think his chances are pretty good. … You take two kids missing from the same school, one from the Boy Scouts and one who isn't. It's the Boy Scout who is going to stand a better chance," said Tom Brown Jr., who runs a tracking school in Waretown, N.J., and is a survival instructor with more than 30 years of experience.
There are two pages worth of requirements to earn a Boy Scout Camping Merit Badge. Scouts are required to "show that you know first aid … and how to prevent injuries and illnesses that could occur while camping, including hypothermia and frostbite …" and "make a written plan for an overnight trek and show how to get to your camping spot using a topographical map and compass." Scout leaders say it takes the average Scout more than two weeks to attain the Merit Badge.
To earn a Wilderness Survival Merit Badge, Scouts are required to "describe from memory the priorities for survival in a backcountry or wilderness location" and "tell five different ways of attracting attention when lost." It is not immediately known which, if any, Merit Badges Auberry holds.
"We emphasize that motto Be Prepared very strongly. We teach these kids if you're lost, stay put. We talk about different kinds of signaling for help with a mirror and other things," said Frank Barre, program director of the Yankee Clipper Council in Middleton, Mass., that serves 53 towns in the state and 9,000 Boy Scouts.
More Than Just Campfires
A weekend camping trip for the Boy Scouts is about more than just campfires and camaraderie, Barre explained. "Boys really like the outdoors -- that's a given. But this is about leadership and learning. The leaders will really sit the boys down and talk to them about what they need to know, even for a simple camping trip."
Still, the potential for panic is real, especially for a child. "I've seen it happen hundreds of times. People go into a state of panic, an irrational panic, they make bad decisions and then shock can take over. … Still this kid is close enough to childhood that maybe instinct will take over and maybe he'll burrow into some leaves, and that will keep him warm," said Brown.
There are two rules to follow if you're stranded in the wilderness -- stay dry and stay out of the wind. "Even at 50 degrees you can freeze to death if you're wet and in the wind," according to Brown.
If Auberry has managed to find shelter, he should be able to survive for at least a while. There are plenty of water sources in Doughton Park and people have been known to last for up to three weeks without food.
Searchers on Monday found the boy's mess kit within a mile of the camp. The search area was expanded and the effort continued into the evening.
In addition to being trustworthy, loyal, cheerful and thrifty, a Scout is expected to be brave. "A Scout can face danger even if he is afraid," the Boy Scout Law states.
Sadly, that's one lesson that has become all too real for a 12-year-old boy.