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Missing boys found, doing OK, sheriff’s office says

PUPOSKY -- The search effort that led to finding cousins Riley Spragg and Cortez White began at 8:30 a.m. in a staging area on Arctic Road Northwest, about 17 miles north of Bemidji.

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Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp addresses volunteers before the search for two boys, Riley Spragg and Cortez White, began on Sunday morning near Puposky. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

PUPOSKY - The search effort that led to finding cousins Riley Spragg and Cortez White began at 8:30 a.m. in a staging area on Arctic Road Northwest, about 17 miles north of Bemidji.

A few hours later, with one transmission over the radio, emotions drastically shifted to joy and relief; the boys, ages 7 and 8, were found safe after having spent the night in a hunting cabin.
After officials from the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office set up the procedures for the search, volunteers on four-wheelers left the command post at 9:20 a.m. and those opting to search on foot were bused to nearby locations about 10 minutes later.
Fortunately, the search was short lived. Just after the buses had emptied and foot searches were about to begin, a call came to one of the deputies at about 9:50 a.m. that said Spragg and White had been found and were being brought to the staging area.
The two were found at a cabin about 10 miles north of the staging area near the 4600 block of Higgins Road Northeast, said Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp.
“Some of the guys had just started the search with their four-wheelers in the woods and they had found the boys’ four-wheeler abandoned and wrapped up in an old barbed wire fence,” Hodapp said. “They continued looking in that area, a hunting ground on private land with numerous enclosed deer stands. Then they started checking the deer stands and then checked a hunting camp where there’s a cabin.”
When the volunteers found the boys, they learned the two had broken in and spent the night to stay warm, dry and safe. After being discovered, the boys were brought back to the command post where they were checked and cleared medically by an EMS team and reunited with their families.
“When we talked to them, we found out that they had some lessons they learned that were in their minds. They knew they had to try and find some shelter,” Hodapp said. “They had even talked about lighting a fire but decided against it, knowing not to make a fire without their parents’ supervision.”
Hodapp added the reason the boys were likely found so quickly was because of the volunteers having knowledge of the land and knowing where to deploy the department’s resources.
Sunday morning’s search followed a busy night for emergency responders and volunteers alike. The two boys had been riding a four-wheeler on family property in the 1500 block of Smith Road Northwest in a heavily wooded area a few miles north of Puposky. After the two boys were reported missing at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Hodapp said multiple agencies and people came out to search on the ground and the Minnesota State Patrol flew a helicopter to scan the area.
“It was an incredible search effort going on here today and through the night,” Hodapp said. “There was a real rally of people right away when the boys went missing. The neighbors turned out in pretty large numbers to search.”
By the time the morning search was organized, Hodapp said he estimated about 340 people had come out to help. So many people showed up, in fact, that the department eventually ran out of reflective vests and announced they had enough people to search at 9:15 a.m. About 45 minutes later, the boys had been found.

Multiple area agencies also came out Sunday to assist, including the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kelliher First Responders, Kelliher Fire Department, North Country First Responders, Red Lake DNR, Lakeport First Responders, Bemidji Ambulance, Paul Bunyan Amateur Radio Club, Beltrami County Highway Department, Beltrami County GIS Department, Beltrami County Sheriff’s Division of Communications, Beltrami County Sheriff’s Emergency Management, Beltrami County Posse, Bemidji Police Department Police Reserves Unit, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Bemidji School District.
Greg Liedl, Bemidji School District transportation coordinator, said three buses were sent to assist the search operation, two standard buses and the third a mobile emergency operation center that provided communication capabilities at the staging site.
“We started roughly at 5 a.m. this morning, loading up the buses and got to this point at about 7:30 a.m.,” Liedl said. “By the time we got here, there were about 25 people here getting ready to go.”
“I have so much appreciation for the turnout, so many from our local area showed up, I want to thank everyone for helping us and we were very pleased with how this turned out,” Hodapp said.
Shane Spragg, Riley’s father, shared the gracious sentiments, saying, “I want to thank everyone that came to help out and the people that were donating things to help out.”

Matthew Liedke is a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is originally from International Falls and now resides in Bemidji. He's a 2009 graduate of Rainy River Community College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead. At the Pioneer, he covers government, politics, health and economic development. He can be reached at (218) 333-9791 or by email at mliedke@bemidjipioneer.com.
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