Originally published Sunday, July 25, 1993
Gary Mahr is alive because he remembered a piece of good advice. As he struggled in floodwater that almost filled the cave he was exploring, he recalled what his aunt always had told him about swimming: Never a panic.
Gary's mother, Sharon McRoberts, said her son told her that he floated to the surface of the rushing water and gasped for air. Then he found a ledge, where he crouched for more than 20 hours.
"He knew how to swim, but if he had let go, he would not have survived," McRoberts said.
Gary, 13, was the lone survivor of the five boys and two counselors from St. Joseph's Home for Boys who were trapped Friday after Cliff Cave flooded.
The first thing Gary wanted when his rescuers carried him out of Cliff Cave on Saturday morning was pepperoni pizza. Not just any pizza, but Imo's.
His doctor had other plans. Gary was admitted to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, where a tube was placed down his nose to his stomach. The doctor said Gary would have to make do with a liquid diet.
Gary asked for a soda, but that idea was nixed as well.
After a visit with her son Saturday evening, McRoberts said Gary was exhausted and upset about the deaths of the other boys.
"He told me that the kids who did not go in the cave had stayed behind because they were afraid," McRoberts said. "He told me he went in because he felt comfortable with an adult along."
Dr. Pam Bailey, the emergency room doctor who admitted Gary, said he had a bump on his head, some scratches and hypothermia.
His family worries that his emotional emotional wounds, may cut deeper.
Gary told his mother that he was aware of the bodies of his friends from St. Joseph's Home for Boys floating past him in a low passageway known as the Drapery Room Crawl.
McRoberts and Gary's grandmother, grandmother, Iva Mahr, talked with Gary during two visits in the pediatric intensive care unit.
Mahr said Gary told her he saw his life flash before his eyes as he struggled struggled in the water. He heard one of his friends cry out, "I'm too young to die."
Later, he heard the voices of the rescue party as they turned back from the entrance to the Drapery Room Crawl, saying the water was too deep. When he heard the rescuers rescuers return Saturday morning, he started screaming.
McRoberts hugged her sister, Rhonda McPherson, and mother close to her outside the hospital Saturday Saturday afternoon. About a dozen family family members had gathered to see Gary after he was flown there.
McRoberts, who also has a daughter, daughter, Monet McRoberts, 8, said she had placed Gary at St. Joseph's Home for Boys about two months ago because because he was having personal problems problems that she declined to discuss. The two talked on the phone often, she said, and Gary came home every other weekend.
McRoberts said she visited Gary during the week when her work schedule permitted. McRoberts is a dietary waitress at Bethesda Dilworth Memorial Home at 9645 Big Bend Boulevard. "No one took Gary away from me," McRoberts said. "I placed Gary in the home. He was doing real good."
McRoberts hugged two of the three male staff members from St. Joseph who greeted her when she arrived at the hospital.
She said Gary talked" to her earlier in the week and mentioned he'd gone to see the Mississippi River.
She said she thought he meant he'd been to the Arch to look at the high water.
"I'm concerned because I feel they were warned not to go into the area," she said. "I no longer want him in St. Joseph's home. It was a good home, but that was bad judgment."
The St. Louis Juvenile Court has legal custody of Gary and will likely decide where he's sent after he leaves the hospital, a state official said.
McRoberts said that after the search ended Friday night, she gave up hope Gary would be found alive. But Gary's uncle, Craig Ingram, didn't give up hope. He said he'd returned to the cave at 7:30 a.m. Saturday to search for his brother's son. His brother, Gary Ingram, was out of town.
Craig Ingram described his nephew nephew as "the kind of guy who thinks fast, who's on his toes," When he heard searchers had found the boy, he said, "It's a miracle from God."
A caving expedition for 16 children from a St. Louis boys' home ended disastrously in 1993 when a flash flood swept through a cave in south St. Louis County.