By Carol Stiffler
Madison Yale is a very happy girl.
She’s very smiley – always smiling, her aunt says – and not easily bothered. So when she went missing for 26 hours last week, it upset the entire world around her, but not necessarily Madison. Though she was outside on her own all that time, wearing only a sundress and no shoes, she didn’t fuss or cry, or do anything to expose where she was.
Last Monday afternoon, Madison was playing in her grandparent’s front yard near Engadine. Her mother, Carrie Yale, dashed into the house to prepare Madison and her brother for a ride on a four-wheeler when Madison disappeared – probably first slipping into the nearby cornfield, according to her aunt, Jillian Sadler, where Madison was impossible to spot.
Her family searched for her immediately, then received assistance from a nearby Amish family who swept through the cornfield and brought a dog along to help. When they couldn’t find her in the usual spots, the Yale family called for help.
The response was one of the most massive, unifying things this area has ever done. Hundreds of people descended upon the normally quiet farm town of Engadine.
“I’m so amazed and thrilled at the entire community,” Sadler said. “It was so amazing that I don’t even have words for it. Literally anybody who’s ever touched our lives appeared that day.”
The crew searched hard and loudly until 3 a.m. – in part to keep wildlife predators away from the small girl alone in the woods. Tracking dogs, trained only to find a generic human scent, couldn’t isolate Madison’s scent from that of all the searchers.
Madison certainly heard the effort, which included a helicopter searching from above.
“Madison is a little delayed,” Sadler said. “She doesn’t have a lot of speech, or a great ability to talk. She can talk, but you can’t ask her, ‘Tell me what happened.’”
Madison didn’t come when she was called, but her grandma remembered that Madison had been asking for cookies that day. Her grandfather went out and bought her some, but she hadn’t had a chance to eat one before she disappeared.
“She does truly love cookies,” Sadler said. “The last thing she wanted was a cookie.”
Locals Katie Oberle and Marcy Butkovich bought cookies and saddled up horses on Tuesday to search for the small girl who had been missing for nearly a day now. They rode through the area northwest of her grandparents’ home, calling out “Madison, do you want a cookie?”
Madison did. When she heard their offer, she emerged from the brush and said “Cookie?”
It meant everything.
“This little girl is our whole world,” Sadler said. “Nearly losing Madison, that was a particular kind of pain that I hope nobody ever experiences.”
Back with her family, Madison was dehydrated, but basically unhurt. Her dress was dirty – especially on her back – but not torn. Sadler knows she must have been freezing. It was a cold, dewy night to be outside in only a dress.
Though Madison can’t explain everything, she did give her family a few clues about what she saw when she was missing. “Trees”, she said, “helicopter”, and “grizzly bear”.
“My heart pretty much stopped when she said that,” Sadler said. One searcher reported seeing a black bear in the woods while looking for Madison, and Sadler saw bear tracks, so she doesn’t doubt the girl’s account.
“But she’s back,” Sadler said. “And to be honest, it’s a good time of year to have a run in with a bear. They’re not super hungry.”
Madison’s family is looking into wearable trackers – perhaps like a bracelet that locks on a wrist – and is hoping to purchase one to guard against future incidents like this one.
Madison is still a happy girl, though she’s sticking closer to home these days.
“She had a pretty good nightmare last night,” Sadler said on Monday. “She is very, very cuddly. She wants to be held a lot. She’s spending more time on the family’s laps than off of it. We’re not complaining at all. If she wants snuggles, I’m more than willing to step up.”
A thank you note from the Yale family is printed on page 16.