Utterly alone and terrified, every year a number of children tragically die in the wilderness, usually because they simply wandered off and became lost. Getting lost isn't generally so bad a problem in the center of town, all too often it ends in tragedy in the wilds. Small, young bodies are particularly susceptible to the potentially deadly hazards of exposure.
Often, searchers pass close by, but the tiny youngster just cannot make themselves heard. It is heartbreaking for all involved; parents, friends and searchers alike.
On June 7th, 1997 yet another young child fell victim to the harsh wilderness environment, this time in the woods of northeastern Arizona when he wandered off from his playmates. While a lot of tears were shed for 8 year old Tommy Schluter, one person who heard about the young boy's untimely death was motivated to do something about it. Lynn Felton of Phoenix, Arizona, reading of Tommy's death in the newspaper, recalled the advice she had heard time and time again that a whistle could save a child's life in such circumstances.
Felton, deeply touched by the grief she knew the parents were suffering, was convinced she could make a difference. While the idea had of distributing free whistles to children had occurred to her before, Tommy's death served as a catalyst to propel her to action. She was determined to get whistles in the hands of as many kids as possible so that other children might not share Tommy's fate, so that other parents might never have to go through what Tommy's parents had been through. The search and rescue workers she spoke with loved the idea.
She convinced her boss, Joel Higginbotham, owner of Sun Devil Auto, a local chain of auto service centers, to fund the purchase of 11,000 whistles. These are being distributed at campsites in Arizona and through local Phoenix area businesses and volunteer groups.
Each whistle comes with a colorful coiled wrist lanyard and a memorial card with Tommy's picture on it. The text on the bottom of the card reads, "Let This Never Happen Again." Tommy's mother, Maureen Morris said, "This helps us cope. The whistles keep Tommy around a bit. They make sure he's not forgotten." Felton's efforts and the whistles help ensure his death was not in vain.
The back side of the memorial card includes instructions to parents and guardians. It emphasizes that children should be taught that the whistle is not a toy. One way to accomplish this is to let them blow it loud and long when they first get it, to get that urge out of their system.
Whistles are a vastly underrated signaling device. A whistle is far superior to shouting, a virtually useless effort, especially for a young kid. The whistle will carry for 1/2 to 2 miles or even more in the wilderness where an adult's voice may only carry for a few hundred yards, at best. A young child's voice may barely carry a couple hundred feet, often much less, depending upon the circumstances. A whistle also enables a survivor to signal for much longer periods of time, whereas their vocal cords would have given out long before. The shrill and unmistakable blast of a whistle repeated three times is a universal signal for distress and will definitely attract attention if anyone is within earshot.
A whistle should be considered an essential item of personal equipment for children of any age (for adults as well, for that matter). No kid should be allowed to go anywhere without a whistle, especially out in the wilds. I suggest it be hung around the child's neck and left there (The lanyard should not be so strong that it cannot be broken in an emergency to prevent strangling.). It'll be a lot more effective, if the child gets lost, than any charm hanging on a chain, religious or otherwise. Do yourself and your children a favor and take advantage of Felton's innovative idea and this generous offer.
NOTE: Felton has moved on but this program continues. Contact Sun Devil Auto for information. This program is only for the state of Arizona, it does not provide whistles to out-of-state groups.
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