BY PORTSIA SMITH
Norma Jean Williams said she had no idea that her missing autistic grandson would be found alive.
“Thursday, I lost all hope,” she said at a news conference at the Caroline County General District Courthouse Sunday. “I was saying things to God that wasn’t very nice. I just knew he was dead.”
But that changed Friday afternoon about 2 p.m. when 9-year-old Robert Wood Jr. was spotted in a rock quarry in Hanover County, about a mile northwest from the park where he went missing five days earlier.
Williams said Robert, who she calls Bud, is recovering at VCU Medical Center in Richmond, and doctors told her he could come home as early as Monday or soon after.
“He’s got a lot of bug bites and bruises and he skinned up his head a little bit,” the Ruther Glen woman said. “His hands were swollen. His feet were swollen. I don’t think Robert would have lasted one more day.”
Norma Jean Williams, grandmother of Robert Woods Jr. pauses as she recalls her feelings upon hearing that her grandson was found alive in Hanover County earlier last week. She addressed the media at the Caroline County Courthouse on Sunday, October 30, 2011, two days after Robert was found alive. (Photo by Reza A. Marvashti / The Free Lance-Star)
She said she was able to visit her grandson Saturday for two hours, but now doctors are only allowing his mother and father to see him while he’s recovering.
“He’s without energy,” she said. “They’re treating him for a lot of things. He looked at me, but I’m not sure he knew it was grandma.”
Robert A. Wood Sr., 34, told police he was walking along a trail in North Anna Battlefield Park with his two sons—both have autism— and his girlfriend when Robert, his older son, wandered off and ran into the woods about 2 p.m. He told police that he tried to chase after the boy but eventually lost sight of him.
Robert was last seen at the end of a trail close to the North Anna River.
“If Robert sees water, he will jump right in it. He has no fear,” she said. “Bud will dart away from you; you have to cling on to him.”
Williams said the day Robert and his younger brother, Ryan, went to the park with their father was the first time in months that they had been with him.
Brothers, Robert and Ryan
“He was told not to take him to that park,” she said. “He knew that if you take Robert and Ryan to a park, that it [has to be] fenced in.”
“I was angry, yes wondering why he would take him to a place like that,” she said. “You have to watch him constantly because he will get into anything.”
The father was called for comment Sunday, but he did not answer the phone.
Williams said her daughter—Robert’s mother—30-year-old Barbara Jean Locker, would have been there to extend thanks to all those who helped in the search, but she hasn’t been well.
“She’s a wreck,” Williams said. “She hasn’t eaten, she’s lost so much weight, she’s made the cigarette company very rich.”
For five days, law enforcement agencies, fire, rescue and military personnel, as well as 6,000 citizen volunteers from all over the country—from as far away as Alaska—searched for the boy, who does not speak.
Bloodhounds, dive teams and helicopters with thermal imaging equipment were used in the attempt to locate Robert in the rough terrain.
Robert, at a younger age
Ironically, the man who found Robert was a volunteer who was told there were already enough searchers for Friday.
“But like the many that did assist in the search, he felt compelled to do what he could,” said Hanover County Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Trice, who has been the main spokesperson for the case. “After obtaining permission to park his car from a resident on Verdon Road, he started to search the woods on [the] west side of the quarry property.”
Upon finding Robert, the man placed a stocking cap on the boy’s head, put gloves on his hands, wrapped him in a coat, gave him water to drink and then called 911, Trice said.
Trice said the man wished to remain anonymous, but did release a statement.
“I was guided by the Holy Spirit, to take any recognition for finding Robert would take credit away from God,” the man said.
Not even Robert’s family knows who the man is.
“I want to thank the man who found him, but I don’t know who he is,” Williams said Sunday morning. “I want to thank everybody.”
For now, Williams said she is waiting for Robert to come home. She said he will celebrate his 10th birthday at the end of November. His age has been unclear.
The Hanover Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate Robert’s disappearance, Trice said.