The couple stood outside the entrance to Children’s Hospital, still dazed, still euphoric about the sudden turn of events: Three days after he was reported missing, their 7-year-old son had been found in the backcountry of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
Jesus Antonio (Pepin) Garcia Morales was cold, hungry, somewhat bruised and slightly dehydrated--but alive and well, and, it appeared, he hadn’t lost his sense of humor.
“He asked about his three girlfriends,” said the boy’s ecstatic mother, Corina Morales, 28, who had flown with him from the park in a Life Flight helicopter. “He said he wanted a hamburger and a milkshake. That’s not unusual. He’s always hungry.”
No, his parents said, facing the lights of myriad television cameras, they had never lost hope. Devout Roman Catholics, the two had spent much of their time in recent days praying. They were always confident that they would get their boy back. They thanked others for their prayers.
Didn’t Eat, Hardly Slept
“We didn’t eat, we hardly slept,” said the father, Antonio Garcia, who explained that the couple spent much of their time during the ordeal near the search command post, biding the time in their car or in a donated trailer. Even now, with the worst over, the 39-year-old agricultural engineer from Mexicali seemed tense, his smile tentative, the relief of the moment slow to take effect.
“Everyone was wonderful to us at this difficult time,” he said, clearly overwhelmed. “We’re so thankful.”
What was the mother’s first thought when she heard that her son was safe?
“My first thought,” she said, “was to give thanks to God.”
Jesus had wandered away from the family campsite while searching for pine cones. That was like him, they said. He is curious, astute, lively. Indeed, he chatted away with his mother as attendants wheeled him, strapped into a stretcher, into the emergency room.
Will Go Camping Again
“He’s a very brave boy,” his father said. “He’s weak now, but we expected that. I’m sure we’ll go camping again.”
Outside the hospital entrance, an almost-festive atmosphere prevailed, a spontaneous burst of good feeling that mirrored the camaraderie among the hundreds of volunteers and others who had conducted the search. “Are they the parents of the boy who was missing?” one woman asked.
Others brought gifts. Both parents carried balloons sent for Jesus. Alex Lopez, a San Diego house painter, came to bring a puzzle and to share in the joy.
“I feel great,” Lopez said, grinning ear to ear. “We felt for the family. I hear he’s a pretty smart kid. Three days out there by himself in the cold, and he made it. It’s an incredible thing.”