Students who were successfully found early Wednesday morning following a search near Echo Bluff State Park. Credit: (Submitted photo)

Search crews from south-central Missouri worked in Shannon County to find juveniles who went missing last Tuesday night at Echo Bluff State Park. They were successfully found Wednesday morning by several agencies.

A group of 15 seventh grade students, led by high school seniors, from St Louis’ John Burroughs School were found safe after an extensive search. The children were first reported missing by school officials Tuesday evening when they didn’t return to camp as scheduled.  The class was practicing “orienteering,” the use of map and compass, in a heavily wooded and rugged area near the Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry south of Echo Bluff State Park.

“We are relieved, and also very proud of our students. They showed incredible resourcefulness and maturity when they realized they were losing daylight faster than they could safely return to base camp,” according to a statement by the John Burroughs School. “They followed their training protocols by setting up an overnight camp, supporting each other, and waiting for help. Many thanks to the search and rescue teams for their quick actions. The entire Burroughs community is grateful. We are reviewing our trek protocols to ensure this type of situation is avoided in the future.”

“They get an A-plus for outdoor survival skills,” said National Park Service Chief Ranger Lindel Gregory. They were found using a thermal imaging drone, operated by Deputy Matt Foster of the Howell County Sherriff’s Department. This device, mounted to a drone, detects heat sources from a distance. They were located on a gravel bar on Big Creek near Dugan’s Bluff.

Andy Abbott, head of the school, provided this statement and some background to their mission: “50 years ago, John Burroughs School established the Drey Land camp on the banks of Sinking Creek in Shannon County.  Drey Land is named for Leo Drey, who graduated from Burroughs in 1934, and who donated part of the land in the Pioneer Forest to the school.  Since then, every Burroughs student — more than 4,000 students, have come to the camp, in most cases many times.  Over those years, the school has had a wonderful relationship with the LAD Foundation, with the rangers in the area and with Shannon County Sheriff’s Office.  We have all worked together to preserve the land, and we have always felt grateful for the support we’ve received from our neighbors and from local authorities.

“That gratitude has never been greater than today,” he said. “The Shannon County First Responders stepped into action right away, worked thoughtfully and compassionately with our staff on site, and did a wonderful job helping our students.  We had very many nervous families and teachers, and it was wonderful to get the news that all 15 students were safe and healthy.”

Agencies from across southern Missouri were involved, including the Shannon County Sheriff’s Department, which managed the multi-agency search along with Pioneer Forest staff. Other agencies providing valuable assistance were Missouri State Park rangers, the National Park Service, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Timber Community Volunteer Fire Department, Howell County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri Department of Conservation, Birch Tree Volunteer Fire and Rescue and the AmeriCorps volunteer organization. Mercy EMS and the Shannon County First Responders provided medical support. The Shannon County dispatch staff worked tirelessly through the night to keep everything organized and get appropriate resources delivered as requested.

“It was a long night, that’s for sure,” said Molly Ice, a Shannon County First Responder from Winona, “We have some wonderful first responders and police.”

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