Carolyn Truex watched a border collie sniff a patch of weeds early Tuesday along a riverbank near the spot where her 4-year-old great grandson was last seen a few days ago. She didn't know whether to feel relief or despair when it turned up nothing.
She and her family have been holding tightly to the hope the missing boy, Caleb Linn, took a wrong path. Or that he fell into the fast-moving stream but managed to pull himself out and survive alone in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas.
The alternative seemed too horrible to talk about, but when two cadaver-sniffing dogs focused on the same spot near the river where two of his shirts were found later in the day, it was impossible to ignore.
"You want them to find him, but you don't want them to find him if he's in the water," Truex said before searchers found the shirts that her great grandson was last seen wearing.
Authorities narrowed their focus to the water late Tuesday and called off the ground search for Caleb, who has been missing since Saturday. He had tagged along with his aunt and several other children to help clear storm debris from a bridge at the 900-acre Kia Kima Boy Scout Camp, which his aunt was looking after while the regular caretaker was away.
When five of the children left to go back to the cabin area around lunchtime, Caleb asked if he could follow. His aunt told him he could, but that he had to stick to the road, Fulton County Sheriff Buck Foley said. The last she saw of him before she turned around to resume her work, he said, was Caleb standing at the end of the bridge.
Hundreds of volunteers turned out since Monday to help in the search, and divers cleared debris and took underwater photographs beneath the bridge. The weather since Saturday has been dry and unusually warm for March, lending hope to Caleb's chances of survival.
But while calls of "Caleb" could be heard coming from the woods and along the Spring River tributary Monday, the camp was quiet enough Tuesday to hear the whir of motorboats passing nearby.
Caleb's parents, who declined to be interviewed, had travelled from their home in Springdale, 150 miles west of Hardy, and were staying in one of the cabins.
While waiting for clearance to join the search Tuesday, several of Caleb's relatives talked about his fear of frogs, spiders and anything else scary. Truex described Caleb, the oldest of four children, as a "very active" boy and speculated that if he had fallen in the river, he could have found his way out.
Truex, worried about how Caleb's mother, Amanda Muir, was holding up, asked aloud: "I wonder if Amanda got any rest last night."
"If we didn't get any sleep, she didn't," replied one of his uncles, Joey Dawson.
Dawson looked through his cell phone and showed off a picture of his smiling nephew and him.
"You know, that's the last picture we ever took together," he said.
An hour or two later, he and a handful of relatives were searching for Caleb, fighting their way along sandy trails and through thorny branches that would snap back with a thwack as the small group charged on.
At one point, they came across the tattered rim of a baseball cap near a wet patch that looked like a child's footprints. They called for help, careful not to touch what might provide answers about Caleb's whereabouts.
Word came a few minutes later: He wasn't wearing a hat. One of Caleb's grandmothers nodded, took a drag of a cigarette and exhaled. They pushed on, stopping occasionally to swat off ticks and wipe blood from the cuts that covered bare limbs.
Dawson swam to a small island in the middle of the river, just in case Caleb had gotten stranded there.
"A whole bunch of nothing," he said when he reached land where the other searchers were waiting. Said another uncle, Chris Bruner, "at least you know you searched."
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