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‘I KNEW SOMEONE WAS PROTECTING ME’
RESCUE TEAM CREDITS ‘A HIGHER SOURCE’ FOR HELP IN SEARCH EFFORT

SHARE ‘I KNEW SOMEONE WAS PROTECTING ME’
RESCUE TEAM CREDITS ‘A HIGHER SOURCE’ FOR HELP IN SEARCH EFFORT

Lost for five days in a small, pitch-black ore cavity 2,000 feet inside an abandoned mine, 10-year-old Joshua Dennis couldn't see an inch in front of his face, but he knew someone was watching over him.

"Angels were with me," said Joshua from his Kearns, Utah, home on Oct. 6, recalling the ordeal that left him dehydrated, weak, and with frostbitten toes. "Someone was protecting me, and I knew people were going to find me."The unshakeable faith of a little boy, added to the prayers of thousands and the dedicated work of hundreds of rescuers, turned a potential tragedy into an emotional testimony-building experience for many.

Joshua had become lost the night of Sept. 22, while exploring an old mine east of Stockton, Utah, with his father, nine other adults, and about 30 members of a Kearns Boy Scout troop. Terry Dennis, Joshua's father and Varsity Scout coach of the Kearns 30th Ward, Kearns Utah Stake, had brought his son along for the trip, but somehow Joshua became separated from the group, and wandered around through the completely dark maze of tunnels.

"I got tired of wandering and just sat there," Joshua explained, who ended up in a 6-foot-wide, 25-foot-deep ore cavity, with no food or water, and no flashlight, matches, or warm clothing.

"I slept a lot and I prayed that they would find me soon," he responded, when asked how he passed the time so calmly. "I sang songs, too, like `I Am a Child of God.' I wasn't lonely or scared - well, a little scared, but I felt comforted." He thought he had been in the mine only two days, rather than five.

Beyond the stillness of that small area, however, was another story.

Deputy sheriffs in Tooele County had been notified of the boy's absence around 2:30 a.m. Saturday and began a search. By Sunday, Utah Power & Light rescue teams, a dozen trained dogs, and local rangers had joined them, while some 200 volunteers, mostly members of the Dennis' stake and neighborhood, combed the hills and steep cliffs of a nearby canyon.

"It was overwhelming, the number of people who wanted to help," said Phillip Fielding, bishop of the Dennis' ward, who added that a special ward fast had been observed.

According to Tooele County Sheriff Don Proctor, nearly 6,500 combined man hours were spent in the search.

"People just wouldn't give up," he said, even after the mine had been thoroughly canvassed six times, and hope that the boy would be found alive began to dwindle.

But there were many, strengthened by a solid trust in God, who had a Skinner.

"My family and I were praying for Joshua on Sunday," related Skinner, a high priest in the Tooele 16th Ward, Tooele Utah Stake. "I don't know how to describe it, but I could picture him still alive; it was a very sure feeling. During sacrament meeting, I told my wife, Christine, I had a feeling I needed to go up to the mine and help."

Skinner, whose grandfather was the mine superintendent, has explored the abandoned shafts since he was 8 years old, and knows the labyrinth of tunnels well. He persuaded rescue officials to let him help in the search, and joined the team leaders.

Guymon and Christensen, meanwhile, two of 11 Church members on the 15-man team, had been praying fervently for some new leads.

"By Tuesday, Sept. 26T time was running out," said Guymon, a high councilor in the Huntington Utah Stake. "We needed some help, some inspiration. When I went back to the motel in Stockton that night, I offered another prayer, and had a strong impression we needed to search around the top of the main slope in the mine."

The three men began searching there Wednesday, Sept. 27. Sometime around 2 p.m., Guymon heard a faint noise.

"It was a teeny, tiny noise like a little squeak," he recalled. "I'd heard a thousand noises during those few days, but it was like the Spirit was telling me I needed to pay attention this time."

Guymon, who has often been kidded about his poor hearing, explained the uncharacteristic acuteness by saying, "The Lord gave me 20-20 hearing for five minutes."

As the men stood still, they heard a small but audible "help."

Christensen yelled back, and when Joshua responded, he scrambled up a slope to where he thought the voice was coming from. He found the boy huddled in the small ore cavity, hidden from view by a load of debris.

"It was one of the most emotional moments in my life," said Christensen, a member of the Price 1st Ward, Price Utah Stake. "When I got to him, I was just trembling. I grabbed him tightly, and he grabbed me. I told him my name, and that I was going to take him to his mom and dad."

"We all just broke down," said Skinner, his voice catching with emotion. "It was an unbelievable feeling. Someone a lot higher than any of us was watching over him."

As the men carried a very weakened but calm Joshua out of the mine, Skinner yelled ahead, "We've got the boy - he's alive!" The sound of cheering and screaming was nearly deafening, they said.

"We weren't any great heroes," said Christensen. "We were just blessed with the opportunity to be led to the right place at the right time."

When Terry and Janeen Dennis learned of their son's rescue, they were nearly weak with joy, said Bishop Fielding, who first learned the news and raced to the Dennises' motel in Stockton. Earlier that day, the bishop and his wife, Gail, had knelt in prayer with the couple, and the four had felt a comforting presence.

"We pleaded with the Lord to find him," recalled Sister Dennis, the compassionate service leader in her ward's Relief Society. "I just couldn't take it anymore, and the Lord won't make you carry your load if you just can't. An hour and a half later, Joshua was found."

As the family sat together in Josh's room at the Primary Children's Medical on Thursday, Sept. 28, Terry Dennis reflected on the ordeal and how it had changed their lives.

"The experience certainly strengthened us," he said pensively. "It renewed our commitment in trying to live better. We feel there are reasons for this happening - we haven't sorted them all out yet, but one was to test our faith."

"Our belief in God got us through," added his wife. She related that the several weeks before the incident occurred, their family home evening lessons had centered on protecting angels and faith, and said that this preparation gave strength to the family as well.

As Joshua came home from the hospital Friday, Sept. 29, some 200 neighbors cheered and released yellow balloons as he was helped out of the car into his wheelchair. A week later, he was doing "wheelies" in the chair, playing video games with his best buddies, and had received more than 100 letters from friends and strangers, people who had fasted, prayed, and put Josh's name on the temple list. Balloons, flowers, and cards filled his room. By Oct. 8, Josh was walking.

"People are really amazing," said his father. "They've been the epitome of what Christians should be."

"We feel deeply blessed," added Sister Dennis. "We know Heavenly Father guided the rescue effort."