Derrick James Engebretson

Friday, March 03, 2006

Town Shares Heartache Of Family Of Lost Boy

Town Shares Heartache Of Family Of Lost Boy
Posted: 12/13/02 8:29 am
Paid Oregonian Archives

December 12, 1998


Summary: The residents of Bonanza, population 370, struggle with rumors and despair as they pitch in to help find Derrick
Folks who live in and around this tiny Southern Oregon town aren't ready to give up on finding Derrick Engebretson, the 8-year-old boy missing for a week in the treacherous mountains of nearby Rocky Point.

They know chances are slim the local boy could survive so long in the inhospitable mountains. But Bonanza is unprepared for such a tragedy. The town's 370 residents still are pulling themselves together from the death just four months ago of 13-year-old Matt Hubbard, who drowned in Medicine Lake, Calif., during an Aug. 24 church outing.
Few can bear the thought of losing another of the town's sons to the fates of nature.

The high-desert flats of the Langell Valley breed few quitters. Many residents tend cattle, labor in nearby mills or work from sunup to sundown all summer long in the valley's many potato and alfalfa fields. When nature delivers a cruel year, they buck up and survive.

"You can't have a wimpy personality and make it out here," said Pastor Ed Novak of the Bonanza Assembly of God Church.

So the people of Bonanza are coping, their ears tuned to news from Rocky Point. The Klamath County Sheriff's department announced Friday it planned to call off the search at nightfall today, despite plans here to mobilize searches for Derrick throughout this weekend.

News takes a circuitous path in towns as small as Bonanza, where ranchers often tune in to police-band scanners around the clock. It would not be unheard of in Bonanza to hear the same bit of gossip on a CB radio, a prayer circle and a coffee klatch gathering in the same afternoon.

False report Somehow on Thursday, with everyone's nerves already jangled by Derrick's disappearance on a family Christmas tree hunt, the gossip took a cruel turn. At 2:30 p.m., a friend of Fabian Baker's burst into Baker's classroom at Bonanza's school to deliver the latest news: Derrick had been found in the mountains, his heartbeat weak, and flown to a Portland hospital.

The news had traveled across police scanners into a prayer circle, before making its way to Baker, Derrick's third-grade teacher. For days, Baker had cried herself dry over the cheerful boy's disappearance. She had tried hard to keep her emotions in check around her 24 students, even when some wrote "welcome home" letters in advance of Derrick's rescue or called out his name during roll-call.

The news he was still alive was too good to be true.

"He's alive?" Baker shouted. "He's alive?!"

The jubilant teacher charged into the hallway and ran for the school office, shouting the unbelievable: "He's alive!"

Another faculty member quickly stopped her. It's not true, Baker was told. It was just a bad rumor that had passed faster than a cheatgrass fire.

Baker's knees shook so badly with disappointment she could hardly walk.

"That was my hardest night," she said.

The students at Bonanza's school have taken up the cause of finding Derrick with a fervor usually reserved for the Antlers' annual football game with rival Lost River, known as the Spud Bowl, or the Bonanza Carnival on the last Saturday of every July.

Many have taken part in community drives to collect food and clothing for the Rocky Point searchers. Some of the older students plan to take part in today's search. Students and teachers and other community members have taped, tied or stapled hundreds of yellow ribbons on fences, phone poles and other public spots. A magnificent bow went up Friday morning above the front steps of the red-brick schoolhouse.

John Earp, a 57-year-old irrigation district worker married to a secretary at the school, found himself pinning together hundreds of yellow ribbons while watching television Thursday night. He wore one on his sweatshirt Friday while sipping coffee at Kostens Country Kitchen.

"There's always a miracle once in a while," he said.

That's what Novak is preaching.

"God's world is full of instances where individuals were saved by miraculous means," he said. "Hope and faith are bedrock emotions and bedrock feelings. And while we may begin to resign ourselves to natural inevitabilities, we're going to speak in hope and faith."

*© 1998 All Rights Reserved.


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