In October 2000, while his great-aunt took a nap, 4-year-old Tristen Myers disappeared without a trace from his home in rural Roseboro, N.C.. For five days, says sheriff's deputy Darold Cox, "we had helicopters, dogs and people on horseback looking. There was no sign of him."
Now the little boy nicknamed Buddy may be coming home. On Feb. 3 a man walked into a hospital in Evanston, Ill., with a filthy 6-year-old he called his son and demanded the boy be treated for "aggressive behavior." Staffers called police when the man—later identified as Ricky Quick, a 33-year-old Chicagoan with an outstanding warrant for stealing a coffeemaker—threatened to leave. The boy, whom Quick called Eli, was then taken into protective custody. A caseworker sent his picture to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who matched his snapshot to one of Buddy Myers. Like Buddy the boy has blond hair and blue eyes, stutters and has two scars on the left side of the neck; X-rays were taken to see if he also once broke his leg. "If he has the same broken bone, it's going to point to it being him," says Robbie Callaway, chairman of the National Center's board. Buddy's great-aunt Donna Myers, 51, who was taking care of him (Buddy's mother, Raven, has relied on family for help raising him after giving birth at 15), is already certain. "When I first looked at the picture, I thought it couldn't be Tristen, because he's so much bigger now," says Myers. "Then I got to looking at the eyes, the nose, the mouth, his ears."
Eli will remain in foster care until DNA testing confirms his identity (the boy's mother has given local sheriffs a DNA sample). Donna Myers, who has decorated her house with yellow ribbons and kept her nephew's toys and room exactly the way they were, is counting the days. "We never gave up hope," she says. "Now he's going to look in there and say, 'I don't like this little baby room.' "