COLUMBIA — A teen who wandered away from his high school picnic Tuesday sparked a search by teachers, parents and students that soon included the Columbia police and fire departments.
Thanks to a stranger, he made it home safely.
Tim McCord, 19, a special-needs student, was separated from his classmates during the annual Hickman High School senior picnic Tuesday at the Twin Lakes Recreation Area. He and a group of friends were hiking on the Twin Lakes trail when they came to the area where the path connects to the MKT Trail.
His classmates decided to turn around. McCord continued on his hike.
His mother, Cindy McCord, said her son was used to the circular trail at Stephens Lake Park, so he thought he would meet his friends at the beginning of the trail. Instead, McCord ended up somewhere entirely unfamiliar.
“I ended up stuck in fields with weeds and trees,” he said. “I felt like I needed to get home.”
McCord said he thought he heard his name being called in the distance, but he was not sure.
He might have been right. The police, who had been called to the park by Hickman Principal Tracey Conrad, were using bullhorns.
“At first I wasn’t worried because I figured he would find his way back,” said his mother, who was told her son was missing when she arrived at 4 p.m. to pick him up. “I wasn’t too panicked, but once more police cars showed up, I started to get a little concerned.”
After being lost for about an hour, McCord emerged from the woods and found himself on Scott Boulevard.
The area McCord wandered into is under construction and dangerous. There is no sidewalk, so McCord walked on Scott Boulevard as traffic drove by. A stranger in a green car pulled up next to McCord and offered him a ride home.
The stranger was Henry Jackson, 40. He saw McCord hanging his head as if exhausted from the heat.
"There's not a safe place to walk on Scott Boulevard," Jackson said. "I really felt sorry for him because anyone could have hit him."
Cindy McCord said her son was a bit uneasy about talking to a stranger, but Tim was "mostly just hot and tired."
“I got a little sweaty and thirsty up in the sun,” McCord said.
Jackson was not planning on driving all the way to McCord's home on Paris Road, but he felt so bad for the tired teen that he took him home and even stopped to pick him up a soda.
"I would hope that someone would have done that for me," Jackson said.
Tim McCord went home to an empty house. When his mother called home at 5:15 p.m., she found out he was safe.
Cindy McCord said Jackson stopped by later to make sure that she and her husband knew their son was home. She was only able to talk to Jackson briefly.
She doesn't know how to reach him, but if they could meet Jackson again, she would emphasize her relief.