He was scared, but the 12-year-old Boy Scout still knew what to do when he got lost during a Utah wilderness outing: He built a shelter made of tree branches and wood to get through a cold night and he covered himself in dirt to stay warm.
Jared Ropelato’s lean-to – a crude structure the Boy Scout manual advises Scouts to build if they become lost – kept him warm enough so he could sleep after the overnight low in Utah’s Ashley National Forest dipped to 31 degrees in the area, said Daggett County sheriff’s spokeswoman Karen Peterson.
The boy from Hooper, Utah, was wearing only jeans and a shirt, and had no food or water, when he went missing around noon Friday. He had gotten lost while on his way by himself back to camp from a nearby lake, walking a total of eight or nine miles before searchers on ATVs found him Saturday morning some four miles from where he started, Peterson said.
“He did everything right last night,” his mother, Dawn, said. “We said he was smart, and he’s smart.”
Peterson also praised the boy, saying that building the lean-to was “good thinking” and it saved him from the elements. He told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City that he had learned to build the structure last year at Scout camp.
“We’re just so glad that this story has a happy ending,” Peterson told the Associated Press.
Jared’s mother told the Deseret News that her son’s biggest scare came when he encountered a bull moose. He got cold during the night, but not too cold. He fell in a river Saturday morning, “but he’s still dirty,” she said.
Jared resumed walking Saturday morning before he was found at 8:40 a.m. in good health, ending a search effort that included about 200 people.
“There were a lot of tears not only from family members, but from searchers as well,” Peterson said. “Up to that point, Jared had been missing for 20 hours and 40 minutes.”
Nicole Ropelato, of Roy, Utah, a third cousin of Jared’s, said the family was thankful for searchers and that the boy remembered the instruction about lean-tos.
“At such a young age to be calm enough to think like that is something,” she said. “That’s incredible what he did. We’re just elated that he was found in good condition. We were worried for him and very scared.”