The Missoula County, Montana sheriff’s Office was called out on the evening of July 8 to the Lolo Hot Springs National Park. Concerned citizens reported a man behaving strangely. This individual was later identified as 32-year-old Francis Carlton Crowley.
While members of the sheriff’s office were en route, dispatch received more calls from folks reporting Crowley was claiming to have a gun and threatening to shoot people with it. He was supposedly reaching into his pocket. When they arrived in the area, Crowley was gone.
Officers then learned of a 5-month-old baby who had been left in Crowley’s care. The child hadn’t been seen in hours. As they attempted to locate the suspect, a vigilant 911 caller said Crowley returned to the area. He was apprehended shortly after and taken into custody.
As they tried to question him, deputies discovered the suspect was under the influence of drugs. He was little help to them, but he did mention the child could be buried in the mountains. The urgency of this situation brought together several local, state and federal agencies. The Missoula County Search and rescue joined the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Montana Highway Patrol, and Missoula County deputies in an extensive ground search.
More than six hours into the search, a deputy heard the faint cries of a baby. The child was found buried face down, beneath a pile of sticks and debris. Despite being abandoned in the elements for over nine hours, suffering 45-degree temperatures and clothed in a soiled, wet onesie, the child is doing well. They were immediately taken to a local hospital.
Crowley is currently being incarcerated at the Missoula County Detention Facility. He has been charged with child endangerment; more charges will follow. It’s unknown whether he has sought legal counsel.
“For all of us at the sheriff’s office, this is what we call a miracle. For the officers who were present for this event, it’s especially hard knowing what this small baby endured in the last 24 hours. Sheriff McDermott would like to thank those who assisted in the search and those who called 911, helping first responders bring this baby to safety,” wrote the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office in a press release.
Indeed, if it weren’t for these observant citizens, this baby could’ve died in the elements and Crowley could be miles away. But thanks to them, this criminal will be punished and the baby will be safe and well-cared for.