When Mitchell Marcum stepped out to his garage for a cigarette Monday morning in Greenwood’s Sweetgrass subdivision, he knew something was wrong.
A series of police cars streaked past his driveway, and before long helicopters were overhead and a dive team was searching a neighborhood pond.
Marcum, 28, asked his neighbors what had happened and found that Michael Stepien, a 3-year-old neighborhood boy, had gone missing.
Word spread fast by mouth, phone and social media, and a search party of Marcum and more than 100 other Greenwood residents from inside and outside the neighborhood assembled under the overcast, stormy skies to find the little boy.
Cortney Swihart, 30, who lives just outside the neighborhood, heard about the search on a Facebook group and drove over in the afternoon to lead one of the search parties. A parent and school bus driver, she could easily relate to the plight of Stepien’s mother and father.
“I think it’s just a mother’s intuition, that mama bear instinct,” Swihart said. “I have four kids, and I don’t ever want to go through what his parents were going through today. If it was my child, I’d want other parents out there looking for him with me.”
The support from across Greenwood was amazing, Swihart said. In addition to helping with the search, people posted the news on Facebook, told their friends and relatives and called their churches to make prayer requests for the little boy.
“Everybody’s like a family here in Greenwood, and I’m really touched by the way we all came together,” Swihart said. “I’m really glad to be a part of this community.”
The search groups split up over the course of an afternoon and walked around Sweetgrass, knocking on doors, looking under and inside vehicles — any potential hiding place a little boy might consider. In the end, it was neighborhood teenager Kaleb Tucker, 14, who returned home from school and found him. He had already heard while at school that a child in his neighborhood was missing but didn’t expect to find the boy sitting in his own home.
“I walked in and saw this little boy in blue Paw Patrol pajamas sitting at the stairwell and crying,” Kaleb said. “He must have wandered in there.”
Kaleb yelled to a search party that he had found Michael, and the frightened little boy ran outside, where he was intercepted, amid cheers from the searchers.
A concerned parent himself, Marcum was relieved when Kaleb found the boy.
“I’m glad we found him,” Marcum said. “I think it’s awesome that humankind bound all of these people together to look for a little boy that most of them didn’t even know. But we’re parents. We’ve all got kids, and we can relate. I’ve got three little girls, and I worry about things like this happening every day.”