Alex was presented a certificate by Michael Comeau making her a junior volunteer with Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue.
LEE, Mass. — Alex Holt worked her way through the woods on Sunday morning, leading a search for a lost hiker on October Mountain.
"Stephanie Starship" had become lost on the mountain after searching for rare plants on a Halloween hike.
Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue Team's Michael Comeau had filled Alex in on the particulars: Stephanie often wandered off the trail looking for plants. She was supposed to have pizza and watch horror movies with her friends at 8:30 on Halloween, but never returned from her hike.
"We have a person that's out in the woods that needs to be found," Comeau told the 9-year-old. "And we're looking for your help to help us find this person."
"I can find her," Alex confidently replied.
The search-and-rescue drill in October Mountain State Forest was done in collaboration with Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island to give young Alexandra Holt of Southbridge the forest experience and scavenger hunt she wanted.
Alex has been diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition and the search was part of her "camping adventure in the forest" wish that took place earlier on Oct. 5-10. Joining Alex at the event were her parents Jason and Danielle Holt and her brother, Aidan.
"I like the forest because it feels like it's my home," Alex said.
Regional Director of Make-A-Wish and Alex's wish granter Peg Wheble had contacted Comeau, president and operations officer of BMSAR, to arrange the event, as it had worked on a similar event before with Make-A-Wish.
Alex knew that Make-A-Wish would be giving her a woods experience including a scavenger hunt, but did not know the details. It was a complete surprise that she would be working with the team to rescue a hiker from the woods.
The first part of Alex's wish was granted in early October when she and her family went camping in Hinsdale. This was her first time staying in a camper and she was able to spend lots of time in the woods by herself. She also did a little rescuing that time as well because her mother lost her way in the woods and Alex was able to locate her by following the sound of her voice.
Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue members arrived at October Mountain at about 8:30 a.m. to set up. Mock victim and BMSAR member Stephanie Buzzella, aka "Stephanie Starship," on the mock missing person's flier, was placed in the woods with blankets and water about 20 minutes before the search began.
A lost person questionnaire was first filled out and reviewed with Alex. This is a required document that gives more information about the missing person so the team can have a better idea of who they are looking for. It gives details about a person's patterns, what clothing they usually wear, any habits, what they like to eat, and what they like to do in the woods.
BMSAR's team set up clues around the area to lead Holt to the missing hiker, including a backpack, a plant pot, a Clif Bar wrapper, a sweat shirt, a Halloween candy bag, and a shoe.
Typically, the team will do a line search to find a missing person. This is where they have a bunch of people in one line that push off over acres of land, sweeping for clues to lead to the lost person.
During the search and rescue, Alex exclaimed, "It's slippery, watch out!" to her search and rescue crew, concerned about their safety.
The search team is an all-volunteer organization that has been around since 1977. Comeau has been involved for about 14 years.
The team has been working through COVID-19, as the novel coronavirus pandemic has lead many people to finding solace in the woods — and not finding their way out. When Comeau was contacted by Make-A-Wish, he was happy to have BMSAR hold another event with them.
At the end of the event, Comeau presented Alex with a certificate of honor from the search-and-rescue team "For her bravery, her dedication and her commitment to helping others with the Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue Team as a junior volunteer."
Alex said her favorite part was when she helped lift a large branch off Buzzella after locating her in the woods. Several branches were placed over Buzzella's legs to make it look like she was stuck under them. When Alex found her, she said she couldn't get up because of the weight of the branches.
"Alex, thank you for wishing for this because I think not only is it a great day for you, but I don't know anybody who doesn't want to be a part of helping to make a child's wish come true," Wheble said. "So by wishing for this, you also gave all of these people to opportunity to bring some joy. Everybody walked away from here today feeling really good."
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