OKEECHOBEE — There was great rejoicing this morning out on the Prairie after a lost toddler was reunited with his parents. On Thursday morning, Feb. 25 at about 8 a.m., Anthony Vickers found the little guy riding his tricycle on Peavine, a main road out on the Prairie. Vickers had to swerve so he wouldn’t hit the tyke as he came out of nowhere. Immediately stopping to get the boy to safety, Vickers called his girlfriend, Kimberly Rodriguez, to alert the neighbors and the sheriff’s department.
Rodriguez posted pictures and information on the Prairie Locals’ Facebook page in the hopes his parents would see the post and reach out. Rodriguez began gathering up neighbors to help search for the boy’s home, and her post was shared hundreds of times within minutes.
Neighbors, Shanna and Hailey Jones kept the toddler safely in the area where he was found while neighbors and deputies searched high and low for his parents. Hailey was the first to discover the boy understood Spanish better than English, but he is so young, he was not able to talk in any understandable way.
“We started stopping every car as it went down Peavine to ask if they knew him, but no one did,” said Rodriguez.
Finally, after about two hours, deputies found his parents, who had been frantically searching for him since they realized he had escaped the yard. A very emotional reunion was celebrated by everyone in the area. “We knocked on their door earlier,” said Rodriguez, “But I guess they were out searching for him then.”
This was not the first time Prairie homeowners have come together to help someone in need, and it’s unlikely it will be the last.
In September of 2020, Prairie residents helped in the search for Jean Alexandre, who disappeared after spending a day picking palmetto berries with a friend. He spent three days alone in the wilderness as helicopters, K-9 units, four-wheelers and a posse of cowboys on horseback assembled by the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office combed through the dense, wild terrain in the Prairie in search of the missing man.
The 65-year-old had fought through and survived three days of suffocating South Central Florida heat and managed to find his way through the rough terrain to the ranger station at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. A short time later, Alexandre was reunited with his family at the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.
Prairie families often get together for holidays and barbecues. If one is in need, many step up to fill that need. “The thing I love about the Prairie! The community came together and helped keep the child safe, offered care when needed, and helped get him home!” said Melissa Roznak, who is one of the homeowners.
"Things in life just happen sometimes," said Rodriguez, who is a fourth generation Okeechobee native. "Sometimes you never know the reason why, but it does bring people together and good things come from it always, even years down the road. God is good."