A year ago, Joshua Dennis' Kearns neighbors threw a jubilant street party when they heard that the lost 10-year-old boy had been found alive after five cold, dark days in an abandoned mine outside Tooele.
Joshua and his parents, Terry and Janeen Dennis, couldn't be at the party. Joshua was in the hospital recovering, and his parents were with him.Still, Janeen Dennis wanted to share in the celebration. But the hectic days after Joshua's rescue stretched to weeks, then months, until pretty soon, the yellow ribbons were gone from the trees and the neighborhood had busied itself with the routines of daily life.
As the first anniversary of Joshua's Sept. 27 rescue approached, the Dennis family decided to return to Tooele, where they had waited and prayed for their son. Thursday night, they threw a party of their own for all the people who had helped them through their crisis.
"It was a very difficult time," said Terry Dennis. "We wanted to normalize our lives, reflect on it a little."
The celebration was an emotional reunion for the nearly 200 relatives, friends and rescue team members who feel a powerful kinship born of Joshua's ordeal.
Janeen Dennis managed only a word or two of welcome to the people who had come to share a pot-luck supper before tears choked off her voice. And when Tony Perry and Laury Dixon, commander and vice-commander of the Tooele County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team, accepted a thank-you plaque from Joshua, their voices grew husky, too.
Joshua had become like their own son during the five-day search, Dixon said. And when the boy was found, "we went home and cried our eyes out," he said.
Joshua was reported missing in the early hours of Sept. 22 last year. The day before, he had gone with a Boy Scout troop to explore the abandoned Hidden Treasure Mine above Stockton. He had last been seen by some older Scouts and his father just 150 feet from the entrance of the mine. Each thought he was with the other. One minute he was there, they said. And then, he wasn't.
Hundreds of search and rescue volunteers were called out, and they scoured the scores of tunnels and shafts in the mine and the cliffs of nearby Dry Canyon. Certain that the boy must have gotten out of the mine, the searchers turned their hopes to the possibility he was lost in the brush-covered mountains. After five days, rescuers were exhausted but no less determined to continue.
And then, around 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, three of the searchers heard a distant, small voice calling for help. Forty-five minutes later, Gary Christensen of the Utah Power & Light Mine Rescue Team found Joshua, disoriented but calm, in a 5-foot-wide mined ore pocket about 2,000 feet from the mine entrance. The boy had taken a wrong turn, rescuers said, hit a dead end, and sat down to wait in the absolute underground blackness.
Joshua survived five days in the mine with only a handful of licorice to eat. His only physical injuries were some frostbitten toes and some balance problems that came from his long immobility, corrected with physical therapy.
The boy and his parents credit their prayers and their strong belief in a divine being for the miracle of his survival.
At the reunion, Joshua repeated what he had told people before when they asked him how he spent his time. "I prayed," he said, "and I thought about getting found. If you're lost, you should stay where you are and try not to be scared."
Terry Dennis said his son's belief he would be found never wavered. "It's interesting," he said. "His prayer was that he'd be found quickly, and when they found him, he thought only one day had passed. Our prayer was that he would find comfort. I just believe children are more resilient and capable of handling something like that."
Joshua, who has handled himself with affable aplomb during his many times in the limelight since his rescue, did so again Thursday. It has become almost routine since his rescue for the boy to speak to reporters, classmates, friends, relatives, church groups and others about his days and nights lost in the Hidden Treasure Mine. A movie telling Joshua's story is in the talking stage, Janeen Dennis said, and the family will fly to California in two weeks to tape Joshua's appearance on the television show, "To Tell The Truth."
The boy shrugs the fame off, Terry Dennis said. During a Thursday evening television news segment on him, he watched another show. "That's one of the blessings of this whole thing. It has not affected him negatively," Dennis said.
Another blessing, said Janeen Dennis, is that so many people have become close friends over the year since Joshua was lost, then found. "It just bonded us," she said.