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‘THANK GOD, HE'S SAFE'

By LAUREL WILLIAMS Friday, March 7 2014

click on pic to zoom in

BALRAM LATCHMAN tightly hugged his eight-year-old son Shivanand and wept.

“Thank God my boy is safe...thank God we found him alive,” Latchman said as he tousled Shivanand’s hair.

A relieved Latchman spoke to reporters at his Carapichaima home yesterday, hours after his son was found sitting on a bamboo patch deep in the Chickland forest on Wednesday night, following an intense nine-hour search and rescue operation.

Asked about his ordeal in the forests, little Shivanand smiled and told Newsday, “I was a little bit afraid when it got dark, so I decided to sit down and wait. I knew my daddy would find me.”

Latchman, a father of two, was part of a search party comprising police officers, tracker dogs, hikers and others who carried out an intense search in the forests after Shivanand went missing.

When Latchman was reunited with his son on Wednesday night in the forests, the weeping single parent lifted his son in the air in jubilation. Through his tears, he thanked the officers, hikers and other members of the search team. Some members of the rescue team also began crying even as a cheer rose among the group.

The slim built Shivanand, a Standard Two pupil of Waterloo Hindu Primary School, took a wrong track on Wednesday afternoon while in the company of relatives and neighbours in the forested area and was lost for several hours.

Shivanand told Newsday he was frightened when he realised he was lost but was confident his father would find him. The boy said he heard his father shouting out his name and shouted back, “daddy, I’m over here!” But his voice was not strong enough to be heard by Latchman.

“I was answering Daddy. I did not know which direction he was located. I started to walk and then the place got dark. I was frightened and started to feel hungry. I was tired and decided to sit down. And then later on daddy and those people came and found me,” Shivanand said.

Latchman who works in the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation, was still weeping with relief yesterday when Newsday arrived at his Wyaby Road, Carapichaima home.

Latchman said that he, his daughter Sangeeta, 12, Shivanand and neighbours including Shivanand’s best friend Darren Dookie, eight, went to dig for yams in the forests off Sou Sou Lands about 8 am on Wednesday. Latchman said at about midday, Shivanand who had already eaten lunch, left the group and headed with three other persons to Latchman’s Nissan B12 stationwagon which was parked a short distance away to collect lunches for others in the group.

“Apparently when they reached the wagon, they saw that the back glass was shattered because of the heat,” Latchman said. He added that Shivanand left the three persons at the vehicle and ran back towards the group to tell them about the shattered glass. “But it seems he took a wrong track in the forests and got lost,” Latchman said.

“When the fellas returned, I asked them for Shivanand and they told me that they thought he was with me. I started to bawl out my son’s name while we all went in search of him. By two o’clock we left the forests and went to the Freeport Police Station to make a report.

“I must say, the officers responded immediately and were joined by officers from the Chaguanas Police Station when the search began,” Latchman added. For the next nine hours, the party searched high and low in the forests for Shivanand.

At about ten o’clock Wednesday night, Latchman and the search party found Shivanand sitting alone in a bamboo patch.

“I was so relieved when I saw my boy. I just started to cry. I cannot explain how I felt. He is a brave child. We found him about four miles from where we were digging for yams,” Latchman said.

Latchman said on being rescued, Shivanand thanked members of the group for finding him. Latchman yesterday commended the search party which comprised members of the K9 Unit, fire officers, hikers, villagers and even members of a Hindu temple from the area for the safe return of his son.

Latchman vowed never to carry his son in any forest again. “That was the first and last time I am carrying my son into the forests. Never again,” Latchman said. Police said that shortly after being rescued, the child was taken to the Couva District Health Facility where he was given a clean bill of health.

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