GREENVILLE Co., SC (WSPA) – Exactly one week after a 9-year-old boy went missing in the mountains from YMCA Camp Greenville, his aunt is speaking out about the race against the clock to find him.
Lisa Alexander told 7-News Thursday that she received a panicked phone call from her sister who said that her son, Matthew Yarbrough, had gotten lost in the woods.
The two drove up to the Caesers Head area right away.
“When I saw the amount of cars and police and search and rescue teams and stuff, it made me think, ‘this is serious… this is a big deal,'” said Alexander.
Staying positive was a challenge for Alexander who said she spent the night gripping a flashlight and walking through the woods, screaming her nephew’s name.
“As it was getting darker, we were getting more nervous because we were like — its going to be almost impossible to find him in the dark.”
Alexander, alongside her family and a search team of roughly 130 people, started looking for Yarbrough after supervisors at YMCA Camp Greenville reported him missing, according to the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.
To read more about the search, click here.
Alexander said that Yarbrough was supposed to be placed in a group of 3 people during a camp exploration period, but that somehow he was not assigned a group and managed to go off on his own.
Amanda Long, a communications representative with YMCA of Greenville, rejected that claim on Thursday to 7-News and said that all campers including Matthew were assigned to a group.
Early Friday morning, Matthew Yarbrough was found walking along a dirt path by neighbors at the Green River Preserve.
“We all started crying, everybody, it was just a sigh of relief,” said Alexander.
“He was trying to get to the Zipline that he had been to and he couldn’t find it. And then he said he followed some little streams that he thought would lead back to the pond that he was at, but I think it was just taking him further away.”
Investigators found that the 9-year-old had rested his head on a log for the night and covered himself in leaves to stay warm.
Alexander said her hope is that a stronger protocol is put in place for keeping track of children at the camp, but also sent a message to parents who may be sending children to any outdoor camp.
“Prep your kids before you take them off to camp as much as you can and teach them the basics of survival,” she said.
Long sent 7-News the following response to an inquiry about if safety protocols would change.
“The Y is thoroughly conducting due diligence with internal and external camp experts, as well as with the unified search and rescue team. From those findings, we will determine if any enhancements need to be made to strengthen our safety protocols. We will share an update in the near future once the research and recommendations have been finalized.”