Ruby Kerr is once again in the arms of her family.
Missing for more than 24 hours after vanishing from the St. Kateri Outdoor Learning Centre on Friday morning, the 11-year-old Sault girl was found safe Saturday afternoon and reunited with her parents.
SooToday was on scene for the family’s emotional reunion. Delivered by helicopter, the young girl ran toward her waiting parents.
The news of her discovery was a massive relief for relatives, friends, search-and-rescue officials — and strangers all across the city, who were desperate for a happy ending.
They don’t get much happier than this.
“I was ecstatic,” Ivan Kerr, Ruby’s father, told SooToday. “I was terrified she was going to have another night on her own. We were really praying. Thank you to our community and everyone who treated us like we were their own. Your heart gets to the point where you feel like you may never see her again.”
The Grade 6 student had hiked approximately 9 km north of the Goulais Avenue learning centre before falling down an embankment.
“She tore up her legs pretty good, she went into a lake almost up to her chest,” her dad said. “She ended up sleeping in the dirt on the side of a trail. She’s tough. She’s going to have a great story for the rest of her life about how she survived.”
Lincoln Louttit, a spokesman for the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, said it was OPP helicopter pilots who first spotted Ruby on Saturday afternoon.
“We quickly got some people out to where she was and got Ruby off to the hospital to make sure everything was okay,” he said. “We’re thankful she’s okay and it seems we’re going to have a very positive outcome to the situation. This has been a tense day-and-a-half and we’re very thankful that she was found okay.”
Louttit said the search team included close to 50 people, including the Ontario Provincial Police K-9 unit, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Sault Search and Rescue.
“We’re incredibly thankful for the community for sharing the amount of information that we put out there and spreading it on social media, and allowing the dedicated search teams to focus on finding Ruby,” he said. "A lot of people put in a lot of hours of work to make sure Ruby was found safely.”
According to Environment Canada, the temperature dipped to a low of 5 degrees Celcius while Ruby was in the bush overnight. Her dad said she resorted to drinking lake water at one point, and was sent to hospital as a precaution.
“She’s the middle child, sisters Charlotte and Georgia are ecstatic she’s coming home,” said Ivan, whose wife Jennifer was with him at St. Kateri. “An unbelievable feeling for the whole family, for [relatives] who came from Toronto, Barrie and Newmarket to help with the search. Obviously Search and Rescue, K-9 officers — just an unbelievable experience, we’re so grateful.”
“I can't picture Mother’s Day without Ruby,” he continued. “What a Mother’s Day gift for Jennifer and for me — best I could ever ask for.”
Ruby is part of the Outdoor Learning Program at Holy Cross elementary school, a unique initiative of the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board that focuses on Indigenous perspectives and land-based teachings. The program consists of a morning session at St. Kateri followed by an afternoon in-class session at the east-end school.
In a letter sent to parents Friday night, the principal of Holy Cross said Ruby “did not return from their designated play area after an activity,” triggering a 911 call. “We continue to pray for the safe arrival of the missing student,” the note continued.
The principal sent a follow-up email Saturday afternoon. The subject line was: “Good News!!”
“We are elated to share that Ruby has been found safe and sound,” the email said. “The hard work and dedication of the police and search services has brought her home. Rest assured that counselling services will be available on site for students on Monday, should anyone require support. Thank you for all of the prayers. They have been answered!”
— with files from Alex Flood, Kenneth Armstrong and David Helwig