McGRADY, N.C. – The little 12-year-old Boy Scout who was missing for four days and three cold nights in the woods of North Carolina "prayed he would starve to death so he could go to heaven," his relieved father told reporters Wednesday.
Michael Auberry was badly traumatized by his four days spent struggling for survival in the mountains, the boy's dad, Kent Auberry said at a press conference.
"He says he doesn’t want to think about it because it was such a bad experience," Kent said.
When he first went missing, the other campers thought Michael had just gone to clean his mess kit and that he would be back any minute, Boy Scout Griffin Prufer told NBC's "Today" show Wednesday. But the time wore on.
"I noticed my dad going into the woods yelling and screaming his name and blowing whistles and stuff," Griffin said.
"I was scared," he said. "He (Michael) said something to his tent mate. He said he didn't want to go on camping trips anywhere."
His father says Michael had a "momentary impulse" to leave his fellow campers.
"Sometimes 12-year-old boys have an impulse, then they think of the responsibility and the consequences," Auberry said of his son's decision to leave his fellow campers.
Unfortunately, by the time Michael had realized he had made "the biggest mistake he'd ever made," he was already lost.
That was early Saturday afternoon. The hours became days as scores of searchers with trained dogs and heat-sensing helicopters scoured the area for the missing Scout. Then, just before noon on Tuesday, a search dog named Gandalf caught Michael's scent less than a mile from the Scout troop's camp site.
Gandalf "popped his head three times" and there was Michael, walking along a stream, said Misha Marshall, the 2-year-old Shiloh Shepherd's trainer.
"He was a little dazed," Marshall said, and he was tired, hungry and dehydrated, but calm.
The searchers helped Michael out of the woods and gave him granola bars, crackers and water. Later, at a hospital with his parents, Michael ate chicken fingers and asked for cookies.
His father said Michael only planned to hitchhike after he realized he was lost. Initially, he was trying to relocate his scout troop.
Michael said he slept in tree branches, drank river water and curled up under rocks while he was in the wilderness. "He saw the helicopters and heard people calling him, but he yelled back and they didn't hear him," Auberry said.
"He's got a tremendous life spirit," the father said, adding that Michael "wants to thank Gandalf especially — even though he ate the peanut butter crackers they gave him."
Michael had worn two jackets, one of them fleece, and was believed to have a mess kit and potato chips with him when he disappeared. The temperature dropped into the 20s some nights, and he said he lost his hat and glasses in the woods.
Once rescued, though, the first thing he said to searchers was that "he wanted a helicopter ride out of there," said Blue Ridge Parkway ranger David Bauer.
Aside from a few cuts and scratches, Michael was in good health. He was given IV fluids in the ambulance to help him rehydrate and told his father he wanted to sleep, said ambulance driver Bud Lane.
Hours earlier, the boy's father had talked about one of Michael's favorite books when he was younger, a story titled "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen about a boy whose plane crashes in the wilderness, and how the boy survives on his own.
"I think he's got some of that book in his mind," Auberry said.
His father also credited Michael's Scout training for his resilience in the wilderness.
"He survived 4 days out there and I don’t think he could have done it without the training he had."
He also said Michael had been a bit reluctant to go on the trip. The boy had asked his dad if he would give him $5 if he didn't have a good time. Auberry said he assured his son that if he wasn't happy on the trip, they would do something fun together the next day.
"To have our son back is a tremendous blessing," Auberry said Tuesday afternoon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.