I’ve been a highway patrol trooper for 21 years, all of them right here in Alexander County, North Carolina, a beautiful area in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. North Carolina State Troopers work alone. Day in and day out, I’m all by myself behind that wheel, and I can get to feeling solitary at times.
It had been a busy shift that day last February. I’d been on patrol since 6:00 A.M. and was scheduled to work until 3:00. Since I’d worked through lunch, I decided to head home a little early and eat with my wife, Linda.
No sooner had I finished my soup and sandwich when I got a strong feeling that I should head back to the station.
“Are you sure?” said Linda. “It’s almost three o’clock now.”
“I know. It doesn’t make sense. I just have a feeling I’d better go back.”
Linda didn’t bother arguing. She knew I had little hunches from time to time on patrol. I’d just get the notion to take one exit instead of another, or to hang around a bit longer at a certain spot. But this time the hunch was stronger than usual, almost like something was telling me to get back. Minutes later I was cruising down Highway 90 toward the patrol office.
As I drove along, the radio crackled to life. “Attention: missing three-year-old boy at Hidden Acres Mobile Home Park. Mother’s name Mary Dyer, boy’s name Sammy. Last seen with his dog on the back porch of his home.”
The woods around this area were thick with snow and the temperature was well below freezing. No kind of weather for a three-year-old to be wandering around lost in. I picked up the radio and got the boy’s address, then turned onto a back road that took me straight to the mobile home park.
I was the first at the scene, and Sammy’s mother was plenty happy to see me. “He was right out there on the back porch with his dog. I told him to stay put while I went inside for a second, but you know how boys can be.”
I drove slowly and kept my eyes peeled for about a quarter mile down the highway just in case the boy had strayed that far. But there was no sign of him. I sped up.
When I'd gotten maybe a mile away from the mobile home park I saw a van parked on the shoulder of the road. The driver was a young woman.
“It’s my boyfriend's van,” she said when I approached the vehicle. “I just stopped here a minute ago because I thought I was out of gas. But now I see I just hadn’t switched tanks.”
She turned the key and the engine started up. With a wave, the woman pulled out onto the road and drove away. I turned and headed back to my car.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move at the edge of the woods. Three large dogs emerged from the shadows and stood there looking at me. They lingered for a moment, then turned and vanished back into the trees. The boy’s home was a mile away. And no one had said anything about three dogs. Was there any way there could be a connection here?
I walked over to the spot where the dogs had been and peered into the trees. There they were, bounding away through the snow. I started into the woods after them. The trees were thick and the air was bracing against my face. The farther into the woods I went, the deeper the snow got. It was getting harder and harder to proceed. Finally I saw that the dogs had stopped again. They seemed to be milling around something. Could it be Sammy?
I winced when I saw the boy’s tiny, shoeless feet. “We need to get you warm, son. My car’s just a little ways from here. Hang on and we’ll be there in a minute.”
Being chilled wasn’t getting in the way of his ability to talk any. “Take me home!” he shouted. “I’m cold! That’s my dog, Bear. Those other two are his friends. I lost my shoes! I want a blanket!” He kept going on a mile a minute as I retraced my steps to the patrol car. I raced back to the mobile home park, where paramedics in a waiting ambulance got to work bringing Sammy’s body temperature up.
Soon little Sammy was back with his mom, safe and sound, and not about to go wandering off on his own again. And I was back home with Linda, talking about what had happened.
“Honey, how long did you say that van had been on the side of the highway before you came along?”
“No more than a minute.”
“And the lady had already found the gas switch by the time you stopped, so she wouldn’t have been there if you’d come by one minute later?”
“And if she’d stopped just a little bit farther down the highway, do you think you would have noticed those dogs?” I could see where Linda was going. “I’m sure I wouldn’t have,” I said. The timing necessary for me to spot those dogs was just way too precise to be mere coincidence. Strangest of all was that hunch I’d had to get back on patrol in the first place, almost as if someone were telling me what to do.
Our local paper ran a story about the unlikely series of events that led to me finding Sammy. It began: “Mary Dyer doesn’t doubt that her son has a guardian angel looking over his shoulder.”
These days, when I get to feeling a little lonely on the job, or when I get one of those funny hunches out of the blue, I’ll remember those words. I don’t doubt that Sammy’s mom was right. Young Sammy does have a guardian angel looking over his shoulder. And I have a hunch I just might have one too.