Saturday, September 12, 2009

South Bar, Nova Scotia: James Delorey, 7, dies of exposure after two nights in the frozen wilderness

James Delorey, age 7

By: Michael MacDonald and Alison Auld
Posted: 9/12/2009 1:00 AM

HALIFAX -- James Delorey, the Cape Breton boy who died in hospital after miraculously surviving two nights lost in the frozen wilderness, was remembered Tuesday as a calm and quiet child whose big brown eyes did most of the talking.

The seven-year-old succumbed to severe hypothermia less than a day after he was found unconscious in a densely wooded area of the island, about a kilometre from his home in South Bar, N.S.

Rescue officials said the little boy, who had followed the family dog into the woods on Saturday afternoon, probably clung to life by seeking shelter in the thick underbrush and huddling with the pet. However, the cold took its toll.

James wasn't wearing a winter coat and his vital signs were weak when he was found Monday lying in the fetal position, covered in a light dusting of snow. It was unclear whether he ever regained consciousness.

Paul MacDonald, the principal at James's school in nearby Sydney, said the boy couldn't speak because he had autism, but that didn't stop him from leaving a big impression on his teachers and fellow students.

"Even though he was non-verbal, he could show his emotions," he said, adding that the boy loved playing with blocks and hanging out in the cafeteria. "He had a nice way about him... he was very calm, like the picture they're showing in the papers. That's the way he was around the school. Just a nice little boy... He seemed content."

MacDonald said James and his older brother arrived at Harbourside Elementary in September when the boys and their mother, Veronica Fraser, moved from Calgary to live with Fraser's parents in South Bar.

When word spread Saturday that James had disappeared in the marshy woods that surround the town, some of his teachers joined in the search, along with hundreds of other volunteers from across the province.

And when he was found alive almost two days later, the community's residents were almost as stunned as they were relieved.

"Yesterday, we were really hoping that things were going to work out -- it seemed like it was going to be a miracle," said MacDonald.

"That's why it's so tough today. The kids and the teachers are having a tough time because of that hope...

"They're pretty devastated."

Melanie Sampson, a resident of South Bar who lives down the road from the Fraser family, said she did not see James outside very often.

"His mother never let him wander," she said. "She could never leave him out of her sight, God love her."

With less than three weeks to go before Christmas, the town is in mourning, Sampson said.

Rescuers followed the dog's tracks directly to James.

The dog, a mixed-breed named Chance, emerged from the forest about two hours before the boy was found.