Dear Andrew, Alex and Tanner:
It is Christmas morning and even before the sky began to lighten, you should have been running down the stairs, excited, wide-eyed, still in your pajamas. I know you would have checked the plate to make sure Santa got his cookies when he came by in the wee hours to leave your presents. Would you have left a carrot, too, for Rudolph?
I have two girls, big girls now, but I remember some of those 5 o'clock wake-up calls on Christmas morning. Sometimes my wife and I could get them to crawl into bed with us and delay wiping the sleep from our eyes for another 30 or 40 minutes, but I doubt that would work with eager little boys like the three of you.
Yes, it's a magical morning, the best day of the year whether, as the carol says, you're 1 or 92. But a lot of the magic is missing because you are still missing.
We don't know where you are. We pray you're alive and well and that just maybe there is a tree somewhere with lights and shiny icicles surrounded by presents with your names on them.
It's a good day for prayer and probably a bad day to question it. But so many of us wonder why bad things, be it illness or ill fortune, are allowed to happen to little kids. Still, we trust the Man whose birth we celebrate today to watch over you. With faith comes hope.
So we hope. We pray you are OK and not too scared. The world can be a terrifying place and the three of you have found that out way too soon. You may be frightened, but you are not alone. Not today, of all days.
You guys wouldn't believe how many people are worried about you and how many of your friends and neighbors from Morenci, even total strangers from miles and miles away, spent so many hours looking for you. There were as many as 400, maybe 500 people on some days, wading through hip-high water, walking through fields and woods, alongside highways, at campgrounds, everywhere they could think to look. Those who couldn't do the climbing and walking made sure the volunteers had hot food and coffee to fuel their effort. God bless them all.
A line of searchers along Ranger Highway in Morenci late last month was part of efforts that on some days involved 400 or 500 people wading through hip-high water and trudging through fields and woods and alongside highways.
Tanner may not be old enough to know the word, but you guys all know about volunteering. You were eager to help put the holiday decorations up at Wakefield Park and at your church, Morenci United Methodist. People have been praying for you there and you should have seen all the candles flickering at the park when people gathered to light your way home.
But you're not back yet, and everyone misses you. Your neighbors are all waiting for you to get home and start sledding and building a snowman. When it warms up, they'd love to see you jumping your bikes over ramps in their driveways. A lot of your friends from Morenci Elementary are looking forward to playing and fishing with you this summer.
We're all having trouble trying to figure out your daddy, but we know you miss him and your mommy too. Remember, you can close your eyes and see them anytime you want, and remember the fun you all had and smile.
You guys have to keep taking care of each other. Alex, your teachers talk about how you'd put your arm around Tanner and make sure he got to and from class safely. So I know you're keeping your eye on him. He needs you.
And Andrew, you're the big brother, the serious one, the one who is wise beyond your years. It's a lot to heap on a 9-year-old, but you're in charge, buddy.
We don't know where you are, near or far, and maybe it's silly to think you're seeing this. But it's the season for hope. Andrew, I know you're the best reader, so I've got a tip for you.
The police are the good guys. Firemen, too. If you see one, no matter how scared you might be, walk up to him or her and tell them your name and where you're from. They'll bring you home.
And when you get there, well, is Morenci ever ready for you.
There are yellow bows on the trees, and wait until you see the lights in the park. People who live there say it's a small town with a big heart.
But it's broken-hearted now.
That will change when you get home. It will be Christmas morning all over again.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.