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aren’t allowed to pass. But this time they keep walking. “Leia wanted a tiny little bit more adventure,” Caroline later explains in her mousiest voice, adding that Leia wanted to find a sunny spot on the cloudy day and she followed her sister. A short time later, Misty Carrico looks up after loading a couple garbage bags and notices the girls are no longer near the treehouse. She notes the time: 2:39 p.m., grabs Wyatt and walks down to the treehouse, where she calls the girls’ names. There’s no response. But Misty Carrico says she wasn’t really concerned. After all, her girls were used to some freedom to explore. But when they haven’t shown up about 15 minutes later, Misty Carrico scoops up Wyatt and a big bell she uses for such occasions and starts walking the property. “I started screaming their names and ringing a giant bell that they always come back to,” she says, adding that she and Wyatt walked a couple of miles around the property. “The kids never came back.” By 3:30 p.m., Misty Carrico says she is “terrified.” She calls neighbors and family, asking them to come search and help watch Wyatt. She calls her husband, who urges her not to worry too much but soon jumps in his car and begins the almost two-hour drive home from work. By the time Travis Carrico arrives home, it’s clear the girls must be lost. There’s still no sign of them despite hours of searching. He mounts his motorcycle and starts driving the network of dirt roads through the area. At this point, Leia says she knows she and her sister are lost. They’ve been walking for hours on a web of deer trails and must have taken a wrong turn. She notices the same metal post and realizes she’s taken her sister in a huge circle. Their legs ache. The sky is growing darker and cloudier, and rain is beginning to fall. Caroline has her rain jacket on but Leia doesn’t have one. “Dad told us when we get lost we should stay in the same spot,” Leia says. “It was starting to drizzle so I knew we had to find shelter fast.” They find a fallen tree branch big enough to shield them from the rain and crawl underneath. It’s cold. Caroline takes off her jacket and the two girls each take one of its sleeves, stuffing both arms inside, and huddle together to stay warm. Caroline is inconsolable. “My sister cried the whole night so I told her to think happy thoughts of our family,” Leia says. Caroline tries to think of trips to the ocean and other fun outings, but she’s afraid bears will come out of the dark to
Search teams from across Northern California gathered for the morning briefing on March 3. Photo by Mark McKenna
“Leia wanted a tiny little bit more adventure.”
eat her and her sister. She keeps crying. As nightfall approaches, the family calls Dianna Totten and the Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue Team, which notifies the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
NIGHTFALL, FRIDAY, MARCH 1 When the sheriff’s office gets the initial call, it follows standard protocol and dispatches a patrol deputy to take a report. The office receives similar calls every week but, once on scene, the deputy quickly realizes this one is different. “When we get there and find out the family’s already been searching for a couple of hours and the search area is
12 NORTH COAST JOURNAL • Thursday, March 7, 2019 • northcoastjournal.com
Caroline Carrico explains that her sister wanted to go on a little more of an adventure before they got lost. Photo by Mark McKenna
massive in Southern Humboldt, with so many possibilities, we immediately contacted our special services division, which encompasses all of our search and rescue personnel,” Honsal says. Under the direction of Sgt. Kerry Ireland, the search begins almost immediately, joining forces with the technical rescue team. By midnight, having found no signs of the girls and with the gravity of the situation becoming clear, Ireland puts out a mutual aid request to the state Office of Emergency Services' regional hub in Alameda County. He asks for enough personnel to fill 10 search teams, scent-tracking dogs and helicopters to canvas the area from the air. An alert goes out to all emergency services offices in the region and, within
the hour, teams are mobilizing to head to Benbow from Del Norte, Mendocino and Lake counties, with a National Guard team also deploying from Sacramento. Misty Carrico, meanwhile, is at home, per instructions from the sheriff’s office, which wants her there in case the girls wander back or call. She says she’s in a “dark place.” “I constantly heard my kids screaming for help in my head,” she says. At 2 a.m., she decides she can’t take it anymore, suits up and goes out to join the search, climbing hills and landslides, looking for her girls. About the same time, Honsal says the professional staff from the sheriff’s office begins to pull back to regroup and come up with a plan for first light.
'Witnessing a Miracle' – The story of two young sisters lost in the woods and the frantic search to find them