Palm Coast, FL -
A four-day search for a missing Flagler County teenager with special needs ends with a miracle.
That's the word used by a Flagler County Sheriff's Office spokesperson soon after 17-year-old Rickey Wheeler was found in a wooded area close to a Town Center trail late this afternoon (September 25th).
FCSO's Anna Hackett says Wheeler was able to speak to detectives soon after a K-9 unit with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office found him dehydrated and covered in bug bites near the Publix on Belle Terre Parkway.
"One of the most amazing things I've ever seen," Hackett added.
Over a hundred people - including volunteers and off-duty first responders from nearby counties - answered FCSO's call for help today on social media, forming search parties to go around Town Center looking for Wheeler, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and also has diminished mental capacity.
It was one of those volunteers who found an article of clothing FCSO was able to positively tie to Wheeler, at which point the Putnam K-9 unit grabbed his scent from that piece of clothing, per Hackett.
"[The dog] went out on a search and, in about 20 or 25 minutes, found Rickey Wheeler," Hackett noted.
Wheeler was transported to a local hospital for treatment, but not before petting the dog - named Putnam - who tracked him down.
The boy's mother first reported him missing around 5 p.m. Friday
, telling FCSO he didn't have any medication or his cell phone on him when he left home.
Deputies ramped up the search efforts gradually, passing flyers out to businesses along State Road 100 over the weekend before today's call for help on social media.
"This is a story that could have had a very different ending," said Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly. "There is no greater honor in our line of work than when you can reunite a missing child with their family and tell the mother and father their child is coming home. God was clearly watching over Rickey and helped led us to him."