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Cape Canaveral, FL — (by Andrea Shea King) — Out for a leisurely walk on the beach this afternoon, smooth jazz piping into my earbuds, camera in hand, I was approached by two women and a little girl about ten years old. The child was crying frantically as the older of the women — the grandmother? — was hugging her, trying to comfort her. The other woman — the mother? — was on her cell phone, a look of desperation on her face. I later learned she was calling the local police.
The older woman stopped me. “The boy! We can’t find the boy!” she said pleadingly. Confused, I popped the buds from my ears. “Im sorry, what did you say?”
“The boy! We can’t find him! He’s gone!”
She told me the little girl was his sister who was with her four-year-old brother when he disappeared. She didn’t see him go into the water, but she was panicked that he might have drowned.
Oh dear God, I thought.
They continued walking, leaving me there stunned at what I had just heard. It seemed they didn’t know what to do. They just kept walking and looking, while the little girl screamed and cried. I scanned the water, pacing back and forth hoping to see him, see something, anything.
A crowd began forming. A couple of men were in the surf, swimming beyond the breakers in hopes of finding the child. Meanwhile, a police officer arrived, spoke with the women, and then talked into his shoulder-mounted two-way walkie-talkie.
Within minutes — though it seemed like so much longer — two more police officers driving all terrain vehicles appeared over the dunes. The first police officer directed the pair to head south along the beach.
Meanwhile, more beachgoers became aware that something was happening, standing by their beach blankets, asking each other if they knew what was happening.
What can I do? I wondered. How can I help? I called ThirdWaveDave to see if he was by his computer — maybe he could send out an alert on Twitter: “missing boy, Cape Canaveral beach, black and red swim trunks, 4 yrs old. Pls tweet if U see him.” A desperate plea for help in 140 characters. But no answer. Leave a message. Call me.
I approached the police officer, who by now was waving to the men swimming in the surf, motioning them to come back in. I asked him for a description of the missing boy. He turned to me and said, “They’ve found him”.
Where? I asked. He pointed south, toward where the ATVs were by now just specks. The boy had wandered off, lost, and just kept walking further and further away from his family. Not hard to do when all of the beach looks the same to a little guy.
“They’re bringing him back,” the officer said.
Oh thank you God, I thought. I went to the mother who was standing in the surf, still shaking and sobbing. I put my arm around her and comforted her. “It’s OK, he’s OK, just take some deep breaths.” Adrenaline was still coursing through her and the let down hadn’t yet taken hold. She was still beside herself.
“I know, I know,” I told her. “You probably feel like throwing up, don’t you? Poor thing…” She nodded and kept shaking and sobbing. At about that time, the ATVs were making their way toward us. The waves washed over my feet, soaking my sneakers. I got my camera ready to grab a shot of them as they rode by.
The little guy was in the first vehicle on the right, snuggled in front of the the police officer. He was getting the ride of his life!
The reunion! The relief! The overwhelming gratitude!
This story had a happy ending. But another one a long time ago didn’t.
ThirdWaveDave sent me this photo of another day on another beach, another onlooker with a camera, capturing forever the images of a desperate couple whose child was swallowed by the surf.
From the LA Times:
John L. Gaunt Jr., a retired Los Angeles Times photographer was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1955 for his picture of a young couple standing by the ocean moments after their young son had been pulled out to sea. The photographer was at his beachfront home in Hermosa Beach the morning of April 2, 1954, when he heard a neighbor shout, “Something’s happening on the beach!” Gaunt grabbed his Rolliflex camera and headed toward the shoreline.
When he arrived, he saw a young couple standing near the water clutching each other. Their 19-month-old son had wandered into the surf and drowned.
Gaunt’s photograph appeared on the front page of The Times the next morning.
In awarding Gaunt the prize, the Pulitzer committee called the photograph, titled “Tragedy by the Sea,” “poignant and profoundly moving.”
Gaunt’s photograph also won an Associated Press Managing Editor’s Award and a prize from the California-Nevada Associated Press.
His daughter recalled Friday that despite the acclaim, “the image was hard for him to bear at first.” She noted that he was just 31 when he took the photograph and had a 3-year-old daughter at home. The couple in the photograph lived locally and, although Gaunt did not know them, he knew people who did.
Thankfully, the drama I witnessed on the beach today had a happy ending. A happy ending for a family who will no doubt celebrate Easter Sunday tomorrow with a renewed sense of gratitude for God’s great mercies.
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