Missing Flagler County teen found safe

After four days of intense searching, everyone finally received the news they were hoping for, when authorities said they located a missing Flagler County teenager, alive and well.

Rickey Wheeler, 17, was found safe after being reported missing by his mother on Friday. Wheeler has muscular dystrophy and left his home without a cellphone, medication, or money.   Family were particularly concerned, because he has limited verbal skills. 

"It's pure excitement, and everybody's so relieved he's back," said Chief Paul Bovino, with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.

Earlier in the day, investigators found clothing consistent with what the teen was last known to be wearing and secured an area to be searched by a 7-year-old bloodhound from the Putnam County Sheriff's Office, named Putnam.   The K-9's handler, Sgt. Emmett Merritt, drove to Flagler County after deputies found Wheeler's shirt, shorts and shoes. 

"They basically called me, said they found clothes. I said, 'Please keep everyone out of the area, until I can get there as soon as I can," Sgt. Merritt explained.  "We got a good track, and when we circled out, we hit another area, and when we started going down another area, we found him laying in a ditch off to the side.  He was alive and alert and he got to pet the dog so it was a good day!"

"He needed help up, he was dehydrated and full of bug bites, but otherwise he was alert and conscious and speaking to our deputies on scene," said Chief Paul Bovino, with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.

It was a good day for family and for Wheeler's teacher and best friend, Alex Dillard.

"Yes, yes, yes they find him!" said Dillard. "I worried too much!" 

Flagler Palm Coast High School teacher Katie Kastner added, "Couldn't believe it. You spend two years with the kid and you love him. Can't wait to go see him and give him a hug!"

Meanwhile, Putnam the bloodhound was expected to feast on a big steak later in the night, for finding Wheeler. 

"It's a great day, unbelievable day, especially for Putnam! He's gonna get a treat when he gets home!" Sgt. Merritt said.

When he feels better, deputies plan to talk to Wheeler about where he was, and they also plan to work with his parents to make sure this doesn't happen again.