Two Florida Families Share a Parent's Worst Fear Until Their Desperate Search Ends in Joyous Relief

updated 09/15/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It was the kind of nightmare whose postscript is too often written on milk cartons. On Aug. 28, around 5:30 p.m., Todd Murphy, 5, and Jeremy Ratcliff, 8, were playing near their homes in Hudson, Fla. But when Todd's half-sister Amy went to call him to dinner, neither of the boys could be found. By 6:30 Todd's mother, Debbie, had phoned Jeremy's father, Florida Highway Patrolman Ken Ratcliff, and soon afterward filed a missing persons report with the Pasco County sheriff's office. Within 10 minutes a police helicopter was hovering over the neighborhood, and a short while later off-duty state troopers joined in the search. The hunt continued through the night and all the next morning. Finally, desperate with anxiety, Todd's parents held a press conference on their front lawn. Just as it had ended and a local TV news helicopter was warming up to take off, the two boys came wandering out of the woods just 50 feet down the street. "Me and Jeremy got lost," Todd said simply. Apparently the boys had gone into the swampy woods to hide some golf balls they had found, then had been unable to find their way out until they were guided by the noise of the news helicopter. "Oh my God!" cried Debbie Murphy, throwing her arms around Todd. "I'm more happy now than when he was born," said the boy's father, Carl.

From Our Partners