Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan’s largest state park, is a remote, hilly area dotted with lakes — a favorite spot for hikers, fishermen and campers.
Eight-year-old Nante Niemi was there with his family, who was happily participating in all three pastimes. When the group decided to split up, half of them going for firewood and the other half going to fish, Nante decided to go with the group in the woods. After a while, he asked if he could go back to the campsite.
It was early afternoon when Nante started walking back to the campsite by himself. That was the last time anyone would see him for nearly 50 hours.
How One Little Boy Went Missing in the Woods
When the two groups reunited at the campsite early that evening, they noticed that Nante was missing and immediately started combing the woods themselves. When they couldn’t find him, they called the police.
Meanwhile, the eight-year-old boy had wandered over two miles from his campsite and was completely lost in the unfamiliar terrain. But he kept his wits about him and started to devise a plan of action.
Nante started by following blue hiking marks on trees but ended up circling the same area over and over. When it started to rain, he took cover under a log.
Still, that evening, no help had reached the missing boy. The temperatures plummeted but fortunately stayed above freezing. Nante spotted search helicopters circling overhead, but there was little he could do to attract their attention.
An 8-Year-Old’s Realization
That’s when the boy realized that he would have to do something to aid the search and rescue efforts.
He stomped his feet in a patch of mud and ran around leaving muddy footprints. In the hilly forest, there were lots of puddles of standing water, but Nante knew he shouldn’t drink it. In order to stay hydrated, he ate snow.
Meanwhile, more than 150 search and rescue personnel were combing the area. They covered a 40-square-mile area on foot, in addition to crews searching by air and in the water.
The family would later find out that Nante was difficult to find because he kept moving in circles. But it was those muddy footprints that he thought to leave that would eventually lead to his rescue.
The Clue That Led to Missing 8-Year-Old’s Rescue
A volunteer team joined the Michigan State Police to help with the search efforts, and Eli Talisman, a friend of Nante’s, was called in to join them. It was hoped that Nante would call out to a friendly voice or respond to a friendly face.
The 18-year-old immediately packed a bag and joined the volunteer team on the ground. They searched for the missing boy in the thick woods, calling out to him and listening for a response. Then they saw the muddy footprints.
Colin Gauthier, part of the volunteer group that found Nante, explained, “We had four or five guys there that were looking at these footsteps, and then we heard a sound of some sort. It sounded like a scream, just like a scream, but one of the guys said, ‘Ah, it’s a bird’…we were following these steps in the mud and then, as we were doing that, I heard it again, but this time it was completely clear.”
How One Little Boy Used His Wits to Aid in His Rescue
As soon as Eli heard it, he jumped into action. “I grabbed my bag that was on the ground and I started sprinting, and I get over this little, tiny hill, and all I see is this little, tiny, white sweatshirt.” Eli looked down to find Nante with a weak smile on his face.
He grabbed his young friend up in a bear hug, immensely relieved to have finally found the boy after long hours of searching. Eli laughs as he tells the story of that moment; Nante looked at his friend and asked, “Were you looking for me?”
The volunteers got the exhausted child into a carrier pack, and Eli carried him out of the woods. After being checked by medical authorities, Nante was released to his family, safe and sound. Nante’s school district shared the news of the boy’s rescue on its Facebook page.
When hearing Nante’s story, it’s easy to forget that this missing boy was only eight years old. He’s in second grade. And yet, miles from his family’s campsite, alone in the woods overnight, he showed remarkable bravery and resourcefulness.
Nante kept a cool head throughout the ordeal, making smart decisions when it came to not drinking standing water, sheltering from the rain, and especially, leaving marks for rescuers to find. The experience is something that will likely have a large impact on him, and he can be proud of the part he played in his own rescue.