On Monday morning, the Ouachita County Sheriff’s Office was alerted to a young boy with scratches and cuts to his body who had been wandering alone beside a road in Camden, Arkansas. The officers immediately began an investigation to find out who the boy was, and where he came from.
“All we knew was that the boy had a whole bunch of scratches and scrapes from head to toe,” Nathan Greeley, a Lieutenant with Ouachita’s detective criminal investigation division, tells PEOPLE. “He looked like someone who had crawled through a bunch of thorns.”
Officers brought the toddler back to their headquarters and posted a photo of him to social media in the hopes someone would be able to identify him. As they waited, sheriffs at the station bathed the boy and replaced his soiled and dirty clothes.
“The parent instinct kicked in for all of us, we cared for him like he was our own child,” Greeley says. “He was very, very thirsty. He later colored and played with cars, but he wasn’t real vocal.”
A half-hour after the officers posted the picture to Facebook, family members reached out and identified the boy as 3-year-old Kylen Holliman, who had been missing for days along with his mother, Lisa Holliman, and 1-year-old brother. The last time the family had heard from Lisa, they said, was Thursday or Friday of last week.
Not long into a search of the area where Kylen was initially seen, officers uncovered a car wreckage in a nearby ravine, which would have been out of sight for anyone driving along the road. Lisa’s body was found outside of the vehicle.
“It appeared she had been ejected for the vehicle and she had been deceased for quite some time,” Greeley says. “The vehicle was turned on its side, and we found a 1-year-old child still in the child restraint, still alive.”
Officers found Kylen’s younger brother awake in his car seat, and they immediately removed and cared for him until emergency services arrived. An ambulance transported the boy to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, Greeley says.
“You could tell he was just happy someone was there,” he says. “It didn’t matter if it was a complete stranger or not, we gave him that love and comfort that he needed.”
Greeley believes Kylen got out of his car seat, climbed through the sunroof or open window, and traversed through a hill filled with bushes before he was spotted some 300 yards from the accident. He says the boys were in the car for up to three or four days without food or water.
“If it weren’t for him getting out of the vehicle, it would have been a horrible situation and we probably would be looking at three deaths as a result of that accident,” he adds. “You can imagine, both of them were traumatized. They had one hell of a stay down there.”
At this point, the department does not suspect foul play in the accident.
Greeley says the 1-year-old is expected to be released from the hospital today, and Kylen returned to the station on Tuesday to pay a visit to the officers who cared for him. He had a smile on his face.
“All I can say is, in the 11 years that I’ve been here, I have never seen something so tragic and amazing at the same time,” Greeley says. “It’s tragic for the loss of the mother, but it’s nothing short of a miracle that the boy was able to escape. At the end of the day, that boy is the hero who saved his brother.”