DRESDEN, Maine — Tim Nason was all signed up Thursday to search for missing 12-year-old Micah Thomas, but after writing down his name and waiting awhile, he was told he’d be called if he was needed.
Luckily for Micah Thomas, who’d spent the previous night cold and alone in the woods, Tim Nason isn’t the type of guy who just waits around. He drove to his home on Alexander Road, which isn’t far from an area that was crawling with searchers across the Eastern River from Nason’s property. Instead of going inside, where Nason works as a graphic designer for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, he walked straight for the woods out back.
“I just kept thinking, ‘I should do something,’” said Nason Saturday, sitting on his stoop with a pile of printed out newspaper stories about Micah. “I thought the least I could do was search my own property.”
In 1997, Nason wrote a self-published novel called “Days With Cedar Whitewater,” which is about a boy who runs away and hides near a river. Score one for the notion that reality and fiction are sometimes intertwined.
“My feeling was, he’s going to go to the river,” Nason said. “I thought if I was that kid, that’s where I’d go.”
Nason has owned his 95 acres for more than 20 years and in all his walks out the back door he has never seen another person, perhaps because it’s not an easy walk. The terrain is steep and rock-strewn, descending for a quarter mile or more to a marshy area near the river. Between the river and the marsh there’s a narrow earthen berm about six feet tall, which Nason calls an ice berm. He decided to walk along a trail made by animals at the crest of it where he could see the marsh to his left and across the Eastern River toward the area being searched to his right. That’s where Thomas had last been seen at about 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“I was looking for anything moving,” Nason said. “I was hoping not to find something in the water.”
He stopped every 50 feet or so to scan in both directions and yell. Nason, who over the past several years has lost about 80 percent of his hearing ability, turned the powerful hearing aids he wears all the way up. Twigs brushing against his head boomed in his ears through the devices, but then he heard something different.
“At first I thought the hearing aids were feeding back,” he said. “Eventually I realized that one of those noises sounded like a voice. I yelled ‘I hear you but I can’t tell where you are.’ I heard ‘I’m over here.’ I looked down into the marsh and there he was, in plain sight.”
Micah Thomas, who’d gotten off a school bus almost 23 hours earlier and for whatever reason went to the woods more than 2 miles away, was sitting about 80 feet into the marsh on a grassy bulge. His blue and swollen feet were resting on top of his boots.
“That was a very painful sight to see,” Nason said with a deep breath. “I said, ‘Are you who I’m looking for?’ He said, ‘Yes I am.’ As you can imagine, I got quite a chill.”
Nason, who didn’t have a cellphone, gave Micah his socks and coat. Nason said the boy was calm, talkative and in relatively good spirits considering the circumstances. Nason, who has six daughters and two granddaughters, rubbed the boy’s feet and told him a story about when his father got frostbite delivering newspapers years ago.
“I was trying to make him see that others had been through what he was experiencing,” Nason said.
For the next 20 minutes or more Nason talked to the boy and waved his orange coat whenever a search plane circled overhead. Micah said he’d crossed the river in a boat and had spent the night in the marsh with his arms and legs tucked inside his sweatshirt. He said he was scared and cold and wanted to see his family. Eventually Nason hefted Micah onto his back and brought him back to the earthen berm, which he planned to follow southwest toward a boat launch. Back up the hill toward Nason’s house would’ve been too hard a walk.
“He was a lot heavier than I thought he’d be,” Nason said. “I didn’t want him to even stand on those feet. He couldn’t.”
When they reached the berm they saw a Maine Marine Patrol boat coming up the river and both started yelling. Maine Marine Patrol Warden Christopher Hilton of Brunswick trooped across a stretch of mud flats and carried Micah back to the boat.
“I was driving the boat up [the river] and I saw this guy standing there and he had this kid, and he was yelling to me, ‘This is the kid we’re looking for,’” Hilton told The Times Record in Brunswick. “I was just worried about getting him back to the landing.”
Hilton offered Nason a ride but Nason said he’d just walk. Nason made it back to Alexander Road just in time to see an ambulance driving away with Micah inside.
“It was just a normal day other than that,” Nason said.