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Found La Pine girl's grateful parents share lessons

By Alicia Inns
Published On: Sep 17 2013 09:24:26 PM CDT

A 7-year-old La Pine girl is home safe after getting lost in the woods for close to two hours. Sadie Gardner is autistic and has Down syndrome. NewsChannel 21's Alicia Inns talked with her parents about the lessons they learned and want to share.

La PINE, Ore. -

Seven-year-old Sadie Gardner likes to run and laugh.

And if the gate at her house leading to the open forest isn't locked properly, she likes to explore.

Which is exactly what happened Monday night, bringing in the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, search and rescue, a K-9 unit and dozens of neighbors -- all looking for Sadie, who is autistic, has Down syndrome and, according to her parents, have no sense of fear or danger.

"I (was) totally amazed -- people just came out of the woodwork," said Sadie's mom, Julie Ryals. "The woods have been my biggest fear, and that's what I was thinking -- this is my biggest fear come true."

"I came back out to see if the cops needed any help, and then I went back in," said Sadie's stepbrother, Wilson, 17. "I ended up going to the right, really far over to a fence where there is a boundary line."

Two hours later, as darkness began to fall, Wilson found Sadie running and laughing nearly a mile away from her home in the woods.

"The whole time I was just knowing that I was going to find her. I had complete faith that I was going to do it and it wasn't going to go bad at all," he said.

Now that she's safe, Sadie's parents and brother are looking at what they can do to make sure something like this never happens again.

"I actually came to the conclusion that I want to be outside every time she is outside, just to be safe," Wilson said.

The Ryals also learned some things they want every parent to know, including to always remember what your child is wearing.

"Maybe even taking her picture before she gets on the bus, because when you are stressed and your adrenaline is high and they say, 'What was she wearing today?' -- in a moment like that, it's hard to recall. It took me 15 minutes to gather what I thought -- and I even got her shoes wrong," Julie said.

Julie said to even check the pattern on the sole on your kids' shoes, so you can track them.

Now they're looking into other options, like Project Lifesaver which partners with the sheriff's office and gives special needs children or people with Alzheimer's a tracking bracelet, in case they wander off and get lost.

"She's always showing us where the weakness in our security is," said Sadie's stepfather, Brian Ryals. "(We're) always putting up new gates, new fences, new locks."

"We're definitely feeling blessed today to have her back safe," Julie said.

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