Boy found safe after disappearing in Michigan state park over weekend

An 8-year-old boy missing for two days in a Michigan park has been found in good health. (Source: WBAY)
Published: May. 8, 2023 at 4:35 PM CDT|Updated: May. 8, 2023 at 10:23 PM CDT
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GOGEBIC & ONTONAGON COUNTIES, Mich. (WBAY) - “Probably the happiest kid in the world, honestly. The last 15 feet, he had his arms open. That kid just wanted a hug,” rescuer Colin Gauthier said.

And he instantly got one. Eight-year-old Nante Niemi also got a piggyback ride from his rescuers after being lost for two days in the woods in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Rescuers found Nante Monday afternoon, and they say the second-grader aided in his own rescue.

The 8-year-old from Hurley, Wisconsin, lost his way on Saturday while trying to return to his family’s campsite in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Action 2 News obtained video showing Nante walking across a river on a downed tree, holding the hands of the rescuers he prayed for. “The last thing he did about 30 minutes before we found him, he prayed was for someone searching and to hear his voice in their head. And I will say, one thing before I crossed that creek. I was also praying, I was praying that someone just showed me where he is. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted to find that kid and bring home and that’s it,” Gauthier, the searcher who found Nante, said.

Eighteen-year-old Gauthier and 18-year-old Eli Talsma, along with a few others, followed a trail of muddy footprints. They eventually heard Nante’s calls for help.

“I took off sprinting, and I was yelling back and forth ‘til we came up over this knob. He was running at me. I hugged him and picked him up,” Gauthier said.

“He was like, ‘How are you doing, Eli? Were you looking for me?’ You couldn’t tell he was in the woods, he was perfectly fine,” Talsma said.

The park posted a photo of one of the searchers carrying Nante Niemi on his back. Another photo on Facebook shows the boy wearing a dirty sweatshirt and munching on a Clif bar.

The rescuers, with Nante in tow, had a mile trek back, and Nante had a lot to say after 48 hours in the woods alone, with overnight temperatures in the 40s.

“He talked the whole way back. Never said his feet hurt or anything.”

But he did tell them how he got lost. He veered off into the woods while trying to make his way back to his family’s campsite at Presque Isle River Area Campground.

Nante then explained what he did to survive on his own in Michigan’s largest state park, riddled with waterfalls, mountains, hills, rivers and tough terrain.

“That kid is tougher than all of us put together,” his rescuers said.

Tough is an understatement. He didn’t drink water because he knew he could get sick. Instead he had a couple handfuls of snow.

“He was hiding under a downed pine tree. He hid underneath it. When he was sleeping the night before, he used leaves and branches over him.”

He also said he purposefully stomped his boots in any mud and snow so rescuers could see his tracks.

“He said since last night he sat in the same spot and waited. He knew people were looking for him, so he sat in the same spot and waited for help,” Gauthier said.

Nante is back home with his family, safe and sound.

An 8-year-old Wisconsin boy missing for two days in a remote, rugged northern Michigan park was discovered near a log Monday and appeared to be in good shape.

“He had braved the elements by taking shelter under a log where he was ultimately found. He is in good health and reunited with his family,” state police said in a statement.

More than 150 people from various law enforcement groups joined the search on foot, in the air and on water. The park has rivers and lakes and is situated along Lake Superior.

The Hurley School District in Wisconsin, where Nante is a student, was elated by the discovery.

“Words cannot describe the emotions and joy the students and staff are experiencing at this moment!” the district said on Facebook.

This story contains content from the Associated Press.