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Community locates missing boy

Submitted Photo Kevin Hochsprung.

An outdoor-loving 2-year-old who gave his parents and first responders a scare on Saturday celebrated his birthday Sunday with cake, ice cream – and new handles and locks on the doors of the family home.

Kevin Hochsprung was the subject of a major search when he went missing from his home on Valley Street in Minot for several hours on Saturday. Police located Kevin in a nearby, unlocked house that was unoccupied at the time.

His mother, Kirstina Hochsprung, said Monday that Kevin is doing great.

“He’s not happy about the fact that I already childproofed the doors,” she laughed. “He’s definitely loving the outdoor world now that it’s starting to warm up.”

Kevin had awakened his mother Saturday at 7 a.m. They had breakfast and settled in for a movie in his bedroom. Hochsprung, who works late hours in health care, said she must have fallen asleep briefly. Her boyfriend and Kevin’s father, Kyle Olson-Gilbert, awakened her at 8:39 a.m. after finding the front door open. They noticed Kevin was missing and figured he had slipped out of the house about 8:30 a.m.

They searched their yard and street as far as a neighborhood gas station, where Hochsprung occasionally had walked with Kevin. Unable to locate the boy, they called Minot Police Department at 9:43 a.m.

“I was absolutely terrified that somebody had taken my child,” Hochsprung said. However, in her desperation to find her son, she never gave thought to the potential danger until later when she saw the dive team preparing to search a water body near the Burdick Viaduct. A police K9 team also had been deployed in the search.

The family took encouragement from an estimated 100 volunteer searchers who congregated at Valley Street and Burdick Expressway for mobilization by police.

Hochsprung had called co-workers at Trinity’s emergency department to notify them in case an unidentified, injured child came in, and a number of emergency room workers who were off-duty came to help search. Other friends also assisted.

Details weren’t available to indicate the need for an Amber Alert, but Central Dispatch sent push notifications to landlines within a set radius of the incident area.

Unmanned aviation company SkySkopes responded with two aircraft and a search plan within 20 minutes of a call from police.

“I knew I could call on SkySkopes,” Police Chief John Klug said in a news release. “I was also aware that they had FAA waivers to conduct UAS operations over people with their aircraft.”

SkySkopes’ CEO Matt Dunlevy and Klug had become acquainted after graduating together last summer from the U.S. Air Force Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. They had attended as civilians at the invitation of the Secretary of the Air Force.

“It was great to put some of the lessons from the Air War College into practice in the real world,” Dunlevy said. “We have done mock emergency response scenarios and actual emergency response scenarios all over the country. This is one of the things we like to be known for.”

The pilots and drones searched a wooded area using thermal sensors and other technology previously purchased with the help of Minot’s MAGIC Fund.

“Some of the drone imagery taken during the search clearly demonstrates the usefulness of UAS in search-and-rescue missions,” said Sebastian Gomez, SkySkopes’ Minot operations manager and mission commander for the quick reaction efforts in a news release. “That this occurred in our backyard highlights the value of our pilots to our communities.”

Around 2 p.m., Hochsprung decided to head home in case Kevin wandered back when she saw her son being carried down the street. She said she was excited and grateful.

“He didn’t seem to be upset. He actually had kind of a smile on his face. He was very happy to see me,” she said. She described his response as “This is kind of exciting. What’s going on?”

Police had found Kevin curled up and asleep on a couch in the back entry of a house two doors down from his home. He was wearing a blue and green Monsters Inc. T-shirt, diaper and his snow boots that he had slipped on before going exploring.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Police and Fire,” Hochsprung said. “But I definitely have a whole new level of appreciation for them.”

Kevin’s birthday Sunday featured a small party, due to social distancing guidelines.

“We just had some family over and had some cake and ice cream and played some games. He destroyed a pinata with help from his brother,” Hochsprung said. Kevin’s brother turns 4 in June.

Hochsprung added she won’t let Kevin grow up without remembering the commotion he caused. He’ll always be reminded of the time a community rallied to find a lost child.

“It is so beautiful to see how the community was willing to come together to help us,” Hochsprung said. “I could hear his name being hollered from every corner, and it was the most inspiring thing. They gave me this confidence. I knew we were going to find him because there were these beautiful people, these incredible people, that were out here willing to help.”

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