Lost in the woods for more than seven hours, Eleanor Coutermarsh, 5, happily returned to her Brookline home on Monday with her two siblings and very tired parents.
Kevin Coutermarsh said when he heard his daughter was found safe Sunday in Loudon — a mile as the crow flies from where she started in Gilmanton — the relief was overwhelming.
“I’m surprised I didn’t just fall to the ground crying. It was the biggest relief of my life,” he said. “I’m very thankful to everybody who was there and searching for her.”
Eleanor, known as Ella to her family, was playing with her twin sister, Lilly, her brother, Robert, and her cousins at her aunt’s home on Rollins Pond Road in Gilmanton around noon Sunday.
“The other kids were playing ‘capture the kid,’ and they scared me away,” said Ella.
Not wanting to be captured, Ella ran off into the woods. Her mother, Annie Coutermarsh, who was babysitting for her sister’s kids, said that she was watching the children, but they wandered away from her while playing. When she went to find them, Ella was gone.
“She didn’t know which way she was going or how to get back,” her mother said.
The family immediately started searching. They called emergency responders around 1 p.m., when the kindergartner, who attends the Richard Maghakian Memorial School, couldn’t be found. A full-scale search ensued with officers from the State Police, Fish and Game and local police and firefighters. Dogs were brought in to trace the girl’s scent, and as dark threatened to complicate the search, a helicopter was requested from Massachusetts State Police.
Annie Coutermarsh attempted to reach her husband to get him to come to Gilmanton, but didn’t tell him what had happened until he arrived.
“The first thing you do is freak out,” said Kevin Coutermarsh, “but then you try not to panic.”
He said that during the search, officials were careful about keeping the family informed of what they were doing every step of the way.
Then, around 7:15 p.m., after hours of crying, praying and searching the woods, the little girl was found. She had wandered into a barn in neighboring Loudon and was discovered by a resident who had heard that the girl was missing.
“She knew my name,” Ella said of the woman who found her. Though she wasn’t scared when she was in the woods, she did scratch her ankles walking through the brush and got her sneakers muddy.
“I threw those dirty pink shoes away,” she said.
Rick Coutermarsh, Ella’s grandfather, said when he was en route Sunday to Gilmanton from Brookline, he spent the entire trip thinking about what could go wrong. It was getting dark, he said, and there was a swamp in the woods.
“I hope we never have to go through that again,” he said.