Virginia Woman Saved From Swamp As A Baby Reunites With Rescuer 35 Years Later
“I was especially emotional when she said she thought about me all the time,” Tameka Boone says.
A Virginia woman who went to the dentist expecting only a teeth cleaning instead also got to meet the hero who rescued her from a swamp when she was just a toddler.
In late February, Tameka Boone, 36, was at her six-month checkup when she spotted the name “Trudy Gunn” listed on an appointment screen, CNN reported.
Boone asked her dental hygienist if she could meet Gunn and she shared the reason why.
On the morning of April 27, 1986, sisters Sheila Lewis and Julia Boone — Tameka’s aunt and mother — left the then-19-month-old girl with other relatives at the family’s home while they headed to the store.
When they returned to the Branchville, Virginia, house hours later, Lewis told CNN, her niece was nowhere to be found and family became “frantic” with fear.
According to Southampton County Sheriff’s Office records obtained by the news network, shortly after noon that day, family reported the baby missing to police.
Authorities scrambled search teams, which included a helicopter crew, state and local police officers and search dogs, among other rescue organizations. As the search efforts mounted, volunteer firefighter Bob Beatty told his friend, Gunn, about the missing girl and the two began to search woods and swamps on horseback.
“I kept praying, ‘Lord, let me find her and let her be okay,’” Gunn recalled thinking that day as she and Beatty waded through waters that were “up to the stomach of the horses.”
Finally, after around seven hours of searching, Gunn called the child’s name and heard a cry in response. She located Boone, who was missing a shoe and sweater and had scratches and a bump on her forehead, sitting on a stump and surrounded by feet-deep water, CNN reported.
Gunn scooped the toddler up and soothed her while taking her to safety.
Boone was nicknamed “Lost and Found” by her family and, Lewis said, loved ones became “more protective of her and each other” in the aftermath of her niece’s disappearance and rescue, according to CNN.
However, the question remained: Had someone kidnapped the baby, or did she manage to wander off on her own?
Police reports and photos taken of a path in the area where Boone was discovered show footprints belonging to an unknown person as well as tire tracks. One investigator observed there were also signs, according to CNN, that appeared to show someone left Boone on the stump.
Authorities spent weeks investigating, but they never identified any viable suspects even though police believed the toddler would have drowned had she wandered into the swampy area on her own. They concluded someone must have taken her from her yard.
Boone, who has no recollection of her rescue decades before, told CNN she was excited to meet Gunn, now 61, at the dentist’s office last winter.
“I was especially emotional when she said she thought about me all the time... I wasn't just an afterthought,” Boone said.
She noted, “I could be just a memory if she didn't care enough to go out there and use her personal horses, her resources. If she didn't care enough to look for me, I could have died.”
The probation and parole officer told CNN she would tell Beatty, the firefighter who alerted Gunn about her disappearance so many years ago, the same thing if he were alive today.
“With today's climate and with what we see happening with division, it's important to highlight the ability to be kind and good human beings... a lot of people in the world can follow Mr. Beatty's lead and Ms. Trudy's lead,” she said, encouraging, “Use what you have to make a difference.”