Peyton Myrick, 2, looks fearless, walking around in the fall leaves of his grandparents' yard in the York County countryside.
His mother said he looked much the same Wednesday night when he got lost out in the woods for more than four hours.
"I was thinking, 'This is not going to end good,'" said Carmen Myrick after the search had stretched on into the night.
Peyton had been outside with his grandfather on Grasmere Lane near Clover. His grandfather was putting air in a tractor tire, and they were about to ride out to pick out a Christmas tree.
He turned around, and Peyton had disappeared.Their dog, a purebred Australian shepherd named Ashepoo or Ash, was gone, too.
At the time, Peyton's father, Rich Myrick, was in Gastonia at the pediatrician's office with his younger son when he got the frantic call from the boy's grandfather.
"He said, 'I can't find Peyton, you need to come home right now,'" Rich Myrick said.
As he raced home, his pediatrician and some of the staff came with him.
The search for the little boy was huge. It involved the sled helicopter, Department of Natural Resources officers, sheriff's deputies, police dogs and countless friends and neighbors -- hundreds of people in total.
As it got dark and grew cold, Rich and Carmen Myrick grew more fearful.
"You see this in the movies, but it doesn't happen in real life," Rich Myrick said.
"As a mother, as a parent, I was just shell-shocked," Carmen Myrick added.
At around 8:30 p.m., several people had reported seeing a black-and-white dog in the area.The family knew it was Ashepoo, and Peyton wouldn't be far away from her.
"I didn't want to get my hopes up," Rich Myrick said. "I just hoped."
Moments later, little Peyton was found in the woods behind a barn about a quarter-mile from his grandparents' home.He was asleep, lying on his wadded-up Clemson jacket.
Ashepoo had stayed with him the entire time and came out of the woods to lead rescuers to the child.
"If a dog can be a hero, that dog's a hero," Rich Myrick said. "I think he got scared, lay down and took a nap, and Ashepoo stayed right with him."
Peyton was checked out by his pediatrician, and though cold and tired, he was unhurt and seemingly unfazed. As TV news crews descended on the family's home Thursday afternoon, he seemed oblivious to all the attention.
In fact, he wandered away from the house and the cameras out toward the woods. Ashepoo was following him again, and so were his parents and grandparents, close behind.
"You just never think this is going to happen to you, but kids are fast.Turn around in a second, and they're gone," Carmen Myrick said.