Van Beek: The curiosity of a child
The curiosity of a child … we all love it. There is an innocence about their quest for knowledge. We are amused with the child who takes apart an electronic device to see where the light is coming from and when that proves useless, they decide it must be coming from those two holes in the wall, and stick something in it to see if they can find that light. Suddenly, joy turns to panic, as curiosity takes a potentially deadly turn. It can happen that fast.
As they grow older, they move on to riskier behavior. A child decides to make breakfast and realizes that stoves get really hot. Or there’s the adventurous soul who climbs a tree and jumps off to see if he or she can fly. Some parents even joke that their car is on autopilot to the emergency room.
As teens, the risks become greater because now a sense of independence must be proven. It’s a right of passage.
When our little darling is born, we are busy childproofing their entire world. Oftentimes, we find ourselves unable to unlock a cabinet or door, proving that we never quite mastered this whole adult thing. Yet, it becomes clear that we cannot childproof everything.
However, unanticipated events or circumstances do occur, and we are caught off-guard. Despite our best intentions and preparations, we begin to realize that we can’t do it all, clairvoyance is not part of our skill set.
This is especially challenging when dealing with toddlers. They are curious, easily intrigued, stubborn, and move very fast. How many of us have reached for something on a grocery store shelf and looked down to discover our child had wandered off. We panic, only to discover them playing in the next aisle. Or at home, the moment we enter the bathroom or pick up a phone, that child has disappeared and is up to no-good.
In Eagle County, our environment offers so many additional temptations. There are exciting trails, cute animals, lots of dirt, and tons of rushing water. The sound, movement, and speed of a flowing river is enticing. It is also especially dangerous at the beginning of the season, with massive snowmelt. The thrill of it can be very appealing to a toddler.
It was a regular summer evening. Sebastian was playing in the living room, dinner dishes were getting cleared away, and within moments, Sebastian was gone.
Did he get past the safety gate and go to his room? Is he hiding? We can’t find him anywhere in the house. Did he manage to get outside? It’s getting late — where is he? He’s too little to just take off. It seems foolish to call the police, only to discover that he may be playing hide and seek.
The call came in. Our natural inclination, as parents ourselves, is that we will find this little guy playing somewhere in the neighborhood. Toddlers don’t understand time or distance. But, as minutes turned to hours, we began to worry about an abduction, being so close to I-70, or injury from a possible fall in the dark, or even an attack by a mountain lion.
Hours turned into days, which turned into weeks. None of us could sleep. All we could envision was this poor child somewhere alone and scared. Despite the pandemic, hundreds of volunteers combed the hillsides, searching for miles. How far could he have gone? With the river nearby, we all tried not to think of that possibility.
Organized was an entire community. Law enforcement, searching, investigating, and reviewing all possibilities, even criminal actions had to be considered and ruled out. The Eagle Police Department had the lead and their staff went above and beyond, utilizing every effort to find this little boy. The Sheriff’s Office was naturally called in, as were numerous state and federal agencies. No expense was spared, as hundreds of hours and every resource was made available.
Everyone pulled together and worked tirelessly. Search & Rescue, with their unique training, took to the rivers and the most dangerous areas of the mountains. The fire department, which has specialized equipment, joined the search. Local businesses donated food and gear.
Ultimately, we discovered the tragic remains of this adorable boy. Living so close to the water, his mom tried to teach him about the dangers of a rushing river. Being a toddler, he only saw the shimmering waves and exciting sound. He had to explore — it’s the nature of childhood.
We were all devastated. Tears spread across the valley.
The family has suffered an unimaginable loss, one every parent fears. Even though this was thoroughly investigated and was found to be a tragic accident, psychologists say that parents who have lost a child will likely suffer depression, anger, guilt, despair, and loneliness. If you know the family, consider reaching out. We often don’t know what to say, but just being there says what words can never express.
We are incredibly grateful for all of the amazing volunteers who turned out from sunrise to sunset, day after day. You exemplify the ideal of a close and caring community.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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