Lost & found . . . a search for Keith Kennedy

Man with autism survives week in wilderness It is always frightening to have a loved one missing in the wilderness, […]

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Man with autism survives week in wilderness

It is always frightening to have a loved one missing in the wilderness, especially when days go by and hundreds of searchers find nothing. What if the lost one doesn’t have the cognitive ability to find his way home, can not respond to his name, can not call out for help, and is without their life-saving medicine?

Such was the case at Trade Lake Camp, a camp for autistic adults near Grantsburg, Wis., from June 15 to June 22. Keith Kennedy, a 25-year-old camper from Shoreview, wandered off of the campgrounds. Kennedy’s autism limits his vocabulary to four words, and he must take anti-rejection medication due to a kidney transplant. Bruce Kennedy, his father, donated a kidney to his son in 1995.

For a week, hundreds of volunteers as well as firefighters from St. Paul and Maple Grove searched an estimated 40 square miles around Trade Lake Camp for Kennedy, with no success. One complication in the search was that he could be frightened by loud noises and run away from the searchers.

On the evening of the seventh day of the search, his mother Linda was beginning to feel “the reality” that her son may have died. The search was close to being called off.

Kennedy was found alive at about 7 p.m. on June 22 by two St. Paul firefighters. He was lying near a stream in an area that had been searched three times before. He was covered in dirt, bug bites and ticks, dehydrated and hypothermic, with a body temperature below 90 degrees. He could not stand or speak, but he was conscious and responsive. According to St. Paul firefighter Gary Ruiz, who first spotted him, at that time he could only respond to his name with a moan. But “to have him make that noise was one of the happiest days of my life,” Ruiz said.

Kennedy was transported via helicopter to the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview. His parents only saw him briefly before he was airlifted away. He was initially reported to be in intensive care but was stable and doing amazingly well for having been lost in the wilderness for a week without his medication. His condition has continued to improve.

Why Kennedy wandered away from the camp, where he went, and how he survived will probably not be known due to his limited vocabulary. Linda Kennedy has said in media interviews, “From about age three he’s been a runner, and our house, really, truly, was like Fort Knox. We had so many systems set up to make sure that he was safe and not going to escape.” It is theorized that Kennedy sneaked into the cafeteria to eat some popcorn in the evening he disappeared, and then went into the woods out of fear of being caught. He was reported missing at about 8 p.m., and the search began.

His mother has resolved to help out the next time she hears of a missing person. She has also stated that she hopes the incident doesn’t turn people off to these kinds of camps that she says truly do help people with disabilities.

Bruce Kennedy is reportedly researching the idea of GPS chips that can be implanted under the skin to track a person that’s wandered away. However, that kind of use of a tracking device has long prompted debate in the disability community.

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