MILTON — It has become a lot harder in the past week to sneak out of the Hughes home. They put extra locks on their doors to stop their 3-year-old son, Aedric, from ending up lost in the woods again.
Aedric, who has special needs and can only say “bye,” unwittingly unlocked a dead bolt and slipped out of his home a little after 10:30 a.m. Sept. 15.
Aedric, who is an only child, immediately wandered into the woods filled with mud and heavy overgrowth. That’s where Copper, a bloodhound, found him about two hours later along with Santa Rosa County deputies Robert Lenzo and Joshua Chandler. The K-9 and officers were all honored for their heroism Monday by the five-member Santa Rosa County Commission.
His mom, Audra Hughes, said Aedric has always been “fascinated” by the woods.
“I just started crying,” she said. “It was more panic and fear. I thought, ‘Am I ever going to see him again? What if he got into the creek?’ It was all those what ifs.”
Her son let Lenzo hold him briefly at the Santa Rosa County Commission complex. Along with Chandler and Copper, they found him huddled in a swampy thicket about 200 feet into the woods.
“I don’t care who you are, when you hear about a 3-year-old missing, it hurts,” Lenzo said. “We weren’t sure if we saw his footprint or not.”
Chandler said both Copper and Zinc had been trained for about a year and this was their first real rescue. Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson brought the bloodhounds into the agency last year and since that time the bloodhounds have located nine individuals, including missing children, senior citizens and criminals on the run.
“I have a 4-year-old myself, so there was a whole lot of pressure out there looking,” Chandler said. “I know they were depending on us.”
The deputies received high praise Monday morning.
“Lenzo and Chandler didn’t mind being out Sunday for something like this,” Johnson said. “They always respond. They always take care of business.”
Lane Lynchard, the District 5 commissioner who represents Gulf Breeze, also heaped praise on the rescuers.
“This is a heart-lifting story,” Lynchard said. “We could have officers up here every commission meeting for all they do.”