The mother of a toddler who was trapped overnight in a mud-hole, while volunteers frantically searched for 13 hours, says the boy still can’t sleep soundly.

Gabe Barrington-Moss says her two-year old son, Courtlund, has been sleeping next to her at night.

“He’s waking up, sweating and kind of panicked, and he always says the same thing, ‘Where am I?'” Barrington-Moss said.

The Edmonton nurse says her son is resilient and she expects he will recover from the trauma sooner than she will.

I hit the fields and just basically sprinted through the fields for hours and hours, hysterically crying, and praying to be guided toward him– Gabe Barrington-Moss, mother of missing toddler

“I think the thought of losing your child is the worst thought in the world, right? It’s the thought that will just bring you to your knees,” Barrington-Moss said.

“Rationally, you know that you’re fortunate and lucky, but I think your heart takes a while to catch up with your head.”

A frantic road trip

Barrington-Moss got a call from her partner, Keeley Moat, just after 8 p.m. Wednesday that their son Courtlund had disappeared from a family gathering at Moat’s aunt’s farm near Aneroid, 250 km southwest of Regina. 

She was told that security footage showed the boy wandering east, into an area with thick brush and trees. 

A photograph by Bailee Switzer, on horseback, shows her boyfriend Wyatt Eirikson (in a navy blue hooded sweatshirt) on foot carrying the boy. (Submitted by Bailee Switzer)

Frantic, Barrington-Moss jumped into a car with her brother-in-law, who drove them through the night to Aneroid from Edmonton. 

She describes the nine-hour drive as “horrendous.”

“You feel so exhausted but you just can’t sleep because you can’t sleep when you know your baby is lost. It was the most horrific night of my life, by far,” Barrington-Moss said.

She tortured herself by imagining every worst case scenario, including coyotes hauling away her son.

“I was calling them every 30 minutes and they just kept saying they couldn’t find him. They said the dogs had been out, the police dogs, and they couldn’t catch a scent.”

Crying and praying

Barrington-Moss arrived at the farm at 5 a.m. The long-distance runner strapped on her shoes and got ready to run into the waist-high wheat fields, but was quickly cautioned by an RCMP officer that they had looked everywhere.

More than 100 volunteers, including Hutterites and ranchers on horseback, had been searching the area for hours. In the middle of the night, police had used remote-controlled infrared technology from the air to search for the boy without success. 

“I hit the fields and just basically sprinted through the fields for hours and hours, hysterically crying, and praying to be guided toward him. But it was literally like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Barrington-Moss said.

Gabe Barrington-Moss poses with her son, Courtlund Barrington-Moss. (Submitted by Gabe Barrington-Moss)

Mother believed her son had been abducted

The mother was starting to lose hope that searchers would find her son, and reluctantly believed he had been abducted.

“I felt like he was gone,” Barrington-Moss said.

She asked police to issue an Amber Alert, but was told they had no reason to believe her boy had been abducted.

“Courtlund is a really beautiful child. You know, I’m his mom, but I think I can objectively say, he’s beautiful. He’s got an angelic face. He’s got beautiful white blond hair. And all I could think was that maybe someone had driven down the road and picked him up before anybody could notice,” Barrington-Moss said. 

“And yes, it’s a small community, but kids go missing everywhere. They would go missing in places that you would never assume that they could be taken.”

From heartache to joy

Then, Barrington-Moss got the news she feared would never come.

Over a radio, someone said her son had been found.

Three volunteers on horseback, including Bailee Switzer, were searching a boggy, slough-like area about a kilometre east of the farm. Switzer told CBC News that they heard the sound of a giggle. When they looked down into a mud-hole, they could only see the top of  Courtlund’s head.

“I just sprinted,” Barrington-Moss said. A man on horseback spotted her running and said, “Get on,” and pulled her up on the back of the horse, she said. They galloped down the road, until they came across someone on a Gator, an all-terrain utility vehicle.

“[The driver] just yanked me onto the back of the Gator and held my hand on his chest, as we speeded down the road until we got to Courtlund,” Barrington-Moss said. She and Moat bawled and clutched Courtlund, before taking him for a medical assessment.

The boy was sunburned and covered in hundreds of cuts, scratches and mosquito bites, she said.

A search operation for a two-year old boy who went missing in Saskatchewan on July 22, near Aneroid, Sask., ended when the boy was found in a muddy hole. (HO, Alain Perrault/The Canadian Press)

She asked him how he was.

“He said, ‘I saw the moon and stars,’ which was the most beautiful child-like thing that he could say, and it just brought me to tears to hear that. That’s how he saw his night.”

As for that giggle?

“He really loves horses and we’re city people, so we don’t see horses that often.”

Barrington-Moss and Moat both feel incredibly grateful at how quickly people gathered to help with the search. 

“It’s such a testament to the people of Saskatchewan.”

Courtlund was prescribed antibiotics for his cuts, and he returned to daycare Monday, with a few extra snuggles from his mother.

Barrington-Moss​​​​​​​ says her son’s sweaty, sleepless nights show her that his little brain doesn’t quite know how to process it all, but she believes lots of love and support from family, as well as sticking to his routine, will help him feel safe again.

“We’re very happy that we have him. But, there’s still a huge amount of lingering upset dealing with the fact that we almost lost him.”

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