Editor's Note: We are happy to report that it has been confirmed that Michael Auberry has been found alive. Rick will be updating as the story develops.
It's hard to convey just how rugged the terrain is where 12-year-old Michael Auberry went missing.
It's not completely isolated, but it's a tough land to cross. Doughton Park is crisscrossed with roads — some paved, some dirt logging trails — and there are homes scattered in the area. There's cliffs, sharp hills, rock ledges, deep gullies, and lots of creeks that must be crossed. And, if you stray off the beaten paths, there's thick underbrush filled with brambles.
The park is five square miles — 5,900 acres, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina, a popular spot with locals for hunting and four-wheeling. Some of those locals have quietly grumbled that they and other would-be volunteers are being turned away, if they're not trained searchers, police officers or firefighters. But, who knows the land better, they ask, than the guys who live and play on it year-round?
I drove into the hills with my producer last night, up a long dark winding road to the makeshift command post in the woods, where federal and state authorities are coordinating the search for Michael. There were dozens of vehicles parked on both sides of the road, and lots of activity at some tents down a trail, as teams were briefed and debriefed, swapping in and out.
Much of the illumination came from flashlights, including those belonging to a group making its way down a trail, out of the deep woods. But aside from hushed conversations, it was eerily quiet. Dark, quiet, and cold. We wondered aloud how scary it might be for a 12-year-old kid on his third night, alone and outside.
The locals say there are black bears, bobcats, coyote, and cougars (they call them mountain lions) in the woods, but they couldn't recall a time anyone had been attacked. They seem less optimistic than the public officials that Michael is OK, considering the terrain, the weather, and the time that's passed.
Two of the searchers I spoke to are off-duty cops who drove four hours on their days off to volunteer, hiking several miles up and down the mountains and they plan to camp out and do it again today. Another is a local volunteer firefighter who was part of the first team to go looking Saturday afternoon. Mickey Welborn didn't quit until 6 p.m. on Sunday — 25 1/2 hours later.
"What did you guys find?" I asked him.
"Nothing" he said.
Rick Leventhal has been a New York-based correspondent with the FOX News Channel since June 1997. You can read his bio here.
Rick Leventhal currently serves as New York-based senior correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network as a correspondent in 1997.